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Indiana Jones?! Safety issues on exploration of underground water channels in Hong Kong
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Indiana Jones?! Safety issues on exploration of underground water channels in Hong Kong

by S. M. Cheung and Rita S.W. Yam

As a relatively unexplored habitat, underground water channels have aroused not only the interest of researchers (Porcupine! 27 p. 18-19) but also the curiosity of the general public, e.g. a man, and a group of naughty children were reported getting lost in underground water channels on 20 November, 2002 (Wen Wei Pao), and 12 January, 2003 (Sing Tao Daily) respectively. Although the biodiversity in some underground water channels is high and there might be plenty new to find such habitats (Porcupine! 27 p. 18-19), exploration in the underground water channels could become highly dangerous if necessary safety precautions are not taken seriously.

Underground water channels are an oxygen deficient environment and sudden increases in the level of harmful, toxic and explosive gases may occur at any time. Flooding may happen when huge volumes of water drain into these channels over a short period of time, especially during or shortly after rainstorms. Some channel systems resemble a maze, people get lost easily, as in the cases of the man and young children in the news reports mentioned above.

According to the Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Confined Space) Regulation, underground water channels are defined as a type of ‘confined space’. Though ecological surveys are not considered to be ‘industrial undertakings’ (for precise definitions of ‘confined space’ and ‘industrial undertaking’ check the ‘Bilingual Laws Information System’ web site in Bibliography), the precautions and procedures in the ‘Factories and Industrial Undertakings (Confined Space) Regulation, Cap. 59AE’ are a good reference for researchers preparing to investigate underground channels.

Before planning the trip to enter underground water channels, think thoroughly whether you really need to go into such dangerous habitats. It is highly recommended that the persons involved in channel surveys attend a safety training course, approved by the Labour Department of Hong Kong Government, for confined space work and hold a relevant certificate. If you must go, never visit these channels during or shortly after rainstorms, otherwise you may be washed away when sudden flooding comes. Study the site maps carefully and properly plan the visit. Tell reliable friends where and when you are going. In this way they can call for rescue if you do not turn up by the stated time. The water and gas quantities should be assessed to be at acceptable levels before entry. At least some members must stay at the channel opening and keep close contact with the people inside. If possible, wear appropriate breathing apparatus and suitable safety harness with a life line held by a person outside the channel. Remember to bring powerful torches with back-up batteries in order to walk in total darkness. Put a light stick on the channel wall at each junction to prevent getting lost in these underground mazes. Always stay alert and prepare to retreat if any sudden change in body conditions and environment occurs. For details on safety matters related to working in confined space, check the bibliography or contact the Occupational Safety & Health Branch of Labour Department.

In addition to personal safety, researchers should bear in mind that collection of any animals in underground water channels within the Country Park Area and capture of protected animals under the ‘Wild Animals Protection Ordinance, Cap. 170’ requires permits from the Agriculture, Fisheries & Conservation Department.

Although ecological surveys conducted in these water channels allow us to explore a little-unknown habitat, these should be properly planned and attention should be paid to all safety precautions. Like the ‘Indiana Jones adventure series’, exploration in underground water channels can be exciting but also full of life-risking dangers and we strongly discourage the general public from visiting these channels unprepared.


Department of Justice, Government of HKSAR. Bilingual Laws Information System---the Database of the Laws of Hong Kong. 14 March 2003 <>

Labour Department, Government of HKSAR. 14 March 2003 <>

Occupational Safety and Health Branch, Labour Department, Government of HKSAR. 2000. Code of Practice---Safety and Health at Working in Confined Spaces. Labour

Department, Government of HKSAR, Hong Kong. 44 pp.

Occupational Safety and Health Council. 14 March 2003 <>



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