Subway workers get only a helmet for protectionSeoul Metro’s lack of safety standards for subway track workers is coming under attack with the death on Feb. 14 of a worker who was fatally hit by a train.
Seoul Metro officials said after the accident that workers are on their own in keeping from being hit by trains. The loud noise of the approaching train, the officials said, should be enough of a warning. They did say, however, that they are reviewing the situation.
“The working conditions for subway track workers are really poor,” a track worker said on condition of anonymity. “There is no safety device, or system, except a safety helmet.”
Lee Hyeon-wu, 43, a temporary employee who was working between Hongik University station and Sinchon station line no. 2, was hit by a train about 11:20 a.m. on Feb. 14 and died later at Kangbuk Samsung Hospital. It is not the first time that track workers have died. Last April, a track worker was hit by a train near Sindorim Station, line no. 1. Seoul Metro said the worker didn’t notice the train heading toward Sinchon station and entered the tunnel.
Subway track workers, hired by subcontractors of Seoul Metro, are often temporary workers without a labor union. They work either day or night shifts. Nighttime workers do repair work between 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m., such as checking for stones or other obstructions on the tracks or paving areas with asphalt. Daytime employees work twice a day, 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., to check for defects on the tracks and to inspect the work of the previous night. As the work is being carried out, the track worker is accompanied by a regular Seoul Metro worker who supervises the work and watches out for trains.
However, there is no electronic warning system in place. When a train approaches, the observer informs the repairman and they run to underground shelters placed along the tracks. “Regular workers of Seoul Metro used to do the track work, but we now outsource the work to subcontractors,” a Seoul Metro official said.
One track worker complained of the hazardous working conditions. “Working during the daytime [when trains operate frequently] is too dangerous. I have never tried to work during the daytime and always do it at night when the track is closed to regular service,” the worker said. “Although the Seoul Metro worker is keeping his eye on approaching trains, I feel the naked eye has limitations in sensing all trains.”
According to Seoul Metro, track workers are given hard hats, trekking shoes and safety belts. Seoul Metro officials admitted to the lack of safety protocols for track workers, but said it is not difficult for the workers to escape from trains. “It is true there is no safety device for repairmen,” an official said. “But the sound of incoming trains is really loud in the tunnel and anyone can hear it.” Seoul Metro also said train drivers, who are told of areas where work is being done, operate the train at a slower speed.
According to Seoul Mapo Police Station, which is investigating the accident, Lee knew a train was approaching and shouted to his co-worker that they needed to escape. The other worker reached the shelter, but Lee did not. According to Lee’s family, Lee had worked on repairing tracks since January. Lee had worked a night shift, they said, but was forced to work the day of the accident by the subcontractor. “He worked during the night Monday and then was asked to work during the day again,” Lee’s wife said. “He just slept about three hours at home and then went for work.”
The subcontractor said calling in workers for extra shifts doesn’t happen very often. Seoul Metro said it will take steps to prevent further deaths. “We know that nothing is more important than life,” a Seoul Metro official said.
By Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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