Prioritize construction safety

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Prioritize construction safety

A series of accidents has occurred in construction sites under the order of the Seoul city government. Two weeks ago, a flooded tunnel accident killed seven workers in Noryangjin, western Seoul. On Tuesday, a section of a steel ramp connected to the Banghwa Bridge in western Seoul plunged from a 10-meter supporting pillar, killing two workers and injuring one.

The ramp collapse raised the same safety oversight question that came up in the investigation of the tunnel accident. The Seoul city government ordered both construction projects but they were administered and directed by private construction companies on contract. The city is under fire for its supervision oversight, which relies largely on the so-called responsible supervisory system in which the construction client can transfer all the authority and accountability to the supervisor on site. Seoul can escape legal punishment for the casualties, but it cannot avoid moral responsibility.

After Mayor Park Won-soon took office, he cut the city’s administrative budget and manpower on supervision for construction, saying he was against pork-barrel projects that his predecessor, Oh Se-hoon, was famous for. Now, only eight city government officials are in charge of supervising 90 construction sites throughout the capital. Because of scarce manpower, city officials can only visit and examine construction sites exceeding the 3 billion won ($2.67 million) scale. They mostly check basic safety rules, such as the use of helmets and fencing, and hardly have time to examine design and engineering progress and details. In its white paper on construction safety last year, the city administration pointed out that construction increased, but supervisory manpower decreased.

It’s up to the mayor to scale down pork-barrel projects. But ensuring safety is a different matter. Safety guarantees should not be victimized because of economic and political considerations. The Seoul government should re-examine its supervisory system and re-strengthen safety inspections. Safety in construction sites can directly affect citizens’ lives and public confidence in the city administration.
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