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Samsung is ordered to make chip plants safer

Aug 18,2011
The government ordered Samsung Electronics, the world’s leading maker of memory chips, to come up with detailed plans to improve safety conditions at its semiconductor production facilities.

It was asked to disclose toxicity levels of chemicals to its employees, as well as hire medical doctors to deal with workers’ health issues.

Leukemia-related deaths among Samsung workers have become an international issue. A civic group called Banollim claims that 20 workers at a Korean plant have suffered from leukemia or cancer as a result of working there, with nine deaths since 1998.

In June, a court ruled that the deaths of two employees at the semiconductor plants were industrial accidents and the families should be compensated, linking the plants with the illnesses for the first time.

The government decision came a week after Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Chae-pil visited Samsung plants in Giheung, Gyeonggi.

It is rare for the government to demand a company come up with specific plans on safety and health issues. Samsung has repeatedly denied that its plants are a source of some employees’ leukemia and an epidemiology study did not find a correlation between leukemia and Samsung’s facilities.

The labor ministry asked Samsung to come up with plans to support retired assembly-line workers that now suffer from leukemia and replace toxic chemicals used at the plants with nontoxic ones. It also demanded that the company expand monitoring of chemicals to all assembly lines and assign doctors who specialize in industrial medicine to each of its units.

In July, Samsung pledged to support retired employees suffering from leukemia, but the government demanded that it come up concrete measures within the month.

The ministry estimated that its requests will cost Samsung 11 billion won ($10.3 million) by 2012.

“The government will form a team of labor ministry employees and civilian specialists on behalf of the public to help Samsung implement the plans and monitor the implementation of them,” the minister said.

The ministry said it would try to prevent companies from not informing their workers of chemicals used in work places.

In response to the request, Samsung said, “There are already eight doctors working for the health research institute founded in 2010 and the number will be increased to 23 by 2013. A plan to support retirees suffering from leukemia will be announced next month.”


By Limb Jae-un [jbiz91@joongang.co.kr]



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