Gov’t targeting industrial accidents

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Gov’t targeting industrial accidents

In response to a spate of industrial accidents including gas leaks and explosions in the country that have killed 12 workers this year alone, the Ministry of Employment and Labor reported yesterday it will strengthen its oversight on safety codes and toughen punishments for companies found in violation of safety regulations.

“The recent series of industrial accidents all took place because they failed to fully follow through with safety protocol,” said the ministry in its statement released yesterday.

The Labor Ministry reported many companies were found to have violated safety regulations in its special inspection following the industrial accidents.

For Samsung Electronics’ Hwaseong plant, a total of 1,934 regulations were violated, while 1,002 safety codes were broken at Daelim Industrial’s Yeosu plant in South Jeolla.

In a display of its determination to stop industrial accidents caused by safety violations, the ministry stated it will impose operation suspensions to assembly lines found to have broken safety codes.

“The operation suspension has been applied to the assembly lines of Samsung Electronics [in Hwaseong] and of Hyundai Steel [in Dangsan, South Chungcheong],” said Kim Min-ho, a Labor Ministry official.

Five workers of the subcontracted firm for Hyundai Steel asphyxiated and died while working in a furnace at a plant in Dangsan, South Chungcheong, on May 10 due to a leak of argon gas, which replaces oxygen in a closed space.

One subcontracted worker at a chip-making plant in Hwaseong also died while four other workers were injured in January after being exposed to fatal hydrofluoric acid gas, a colorless poison that can damage the lungs, bones and nervous system.

Less than four months later, three workers employed by the electric giant’s subcontracted firm were again exposed to the same gas at the same Hwaseong plant.

None of the three died.

Kim added total operations at Daelim’s Yeosu plant, which had an explosion on March 14 that left six subcontracted workers dead, have been halted since the accident.

“The government will decide whether to allow the companies to resume their operations after reviewing companies’ plans to ensure and strengthen safety measures,” the official said.

In a move to address companies’ tendency to outsource dangerous tasks to subcontractors, so they can receive lighter legal punishment in case of industrial accidents, the ministry said they will impose the same level of punishment to outsourcing firms.

Under the revision, both outsourcing firms and subcontractors will face up to five years in prison or 50 million won ($45,000) in fines.

Currently, companies are subject to one year in prison or 10 million won in fines for an accident caused by subcontractors.

By Kang Jin-kyu [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]

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