Collective awakening neededA man-made disaster occurred again. A fire at Goyang Intercity Bus Terminal in Gyeonggi on Monday left 6 people dead and injured more than 40. The terminal houses a large discount outlet, movie theater, shopping mall and start-up assistance center. If the fire had occurred at busy hours like lunchtime - instead of 9 a.m. when it’s not so crowed - it could have led to a much bigger disaster. Though the exact cause of the fire remains unknown, sparks from welding works are believed to be the cause. If workers had gotten rid of flammable materials or had fire-prevention equipment, they could have averted the accident. A similar fire at a construction site in Guro Digital Complex also left more than 10 people dead or injured six months ago.
Since the Sewol ferry disaster, our entire society has been in deep grief. Even though sense of safety should have improved after that, accidents are still happening.
A recent investigation by the Ministry of Security and Public Administration confirmed that there are as many as 684 defective elevators at public facilities across the country. Public institutions and private companies have not learned a lesson from the Sewol tragedy. A large fire at a storage house in Busan last week also triggered an explosion of butane gas and chemicals and swallowed up six buildings in just an hour.
Irrefutable evidence of lax safety attitudes was the cause of the Seoul subway crash that happened only two weeks after the Sewol tragedy. On the very day the Goyang terminal caught fire, the police announced the results of their month-long investigation into the transport disaster. Their conclusion was too obvious: Seoul Metro staff didn’t report the malfunctioning signal system nor did they fix the problem. If such negligence continues, a much bigger catastrophe could occur down the road.
To prevent safety-related accidents, we must pay the price by changing old systems. Korea’s death rates from industrial accidents are nearly the worst among OECD members - almost five times higher than the OECD average - due to the strange structure in which big companies assign jobs to contractors at cheap prices, who then hastily do their work without safety awareness.
The structural safety problem should be a national agenda item before a bigger price - and more time - is demanded to revamp the system. Despite a strong commitment to safety after the Sewol tragedy, we still have trouble putting it into action. Unless we are truly awakened, another huge disaster could hit us anytime soon.
JoongAng Ilbo, May 27, Page 30