[EDITORIALS]Our unsafe workplaces

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[EDITORIALS]Our unsafe workplaces

Indifference to industrial disasters, in spite of the enormous human and economic losses they cause, is a social problem. As the social structure becomes more complex and the industrial structure is realigned, new kinds of work-related accidents and illnesses occur. But measures to prevent and ameliorate on-the-job hazards remain as they were in the past.

Surging cases of occupational musculoskeletal disorders supply an example. According to the Ministry of Labor, these afflictions affected 1,598 employees last year, up 58.4 percent from a year earlier. But the statistics are based on the number of compensation claims, and the actual number of workers who suffered ergonomic injuries must be far greater.

Musculoskeletal disorders result from repetitive motion and hard labor, posing such health hazards as chronic pains in the neck, shoulder, waist and elsewhere. On-the-job hazards now affect office workers as well as manufacturing workers. But the lack of clear diagnostic criteria intensifies labor conflict. The administration has introduced corrective legislation, but the National Assembly is dragging its feet.

Our perception and reaction to the increase in occupational health hazards lags far behind those in advanced societies. Work-related injuries cost Korea 8.7 trillion won ($7.4 billion) in 2001, equivalent to 1.8 percent of the total output of the economy. Notably, 69 percent of industrial accidents occurred at workplaces with fewer than 50 employees, and workers with less than 12 months on the job accounted for 58 percent of work-related mishaps. These statistics show that small workplaces are the most vulnerable to industrial disasters, and also that businesses do not provide enough safety training for new workers.

If a country's industrial competitiveness depends on improving productivity, workers' health provides the foundation. Because it is better to prevent on-the-job accidents and illnesses than to deal with them after they take place, companies and employees should become more safety-conscious. The government should also come up with preventive measures, including improving ergonomic standards.

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