Safety inspections find lots of flaws

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Safety inspections find lots of flaws


Hundreds of people walk over the Seonghye overpass every day.

But a nationwide assessment this year found that the structure, which connects Gwanak and Anyang Stations in Anyang, Gyeonggi, was severely corroded and that part of the bottom had broken away.

The overpass, built in 1978, received a grade D from a government safety assessment this year that evaluated 240,000 facilities across the country.

The inspection assigns grades on a scale from A to E, and any facility that scores a D or an E is considered to have the potential for disaster.

A Gyeonggi official admitted the city was still working toward finding funds for repair.

The Seonghye overpass is just one example of infrastructure across the country in desperate need of maintenance. The government is trying to be stricter on public safety following the April 16 Sewol ferry disaster, which left more than 300 people dead.

Over the two-month evaluation, investigators assessed residential, childcare and industrial facilities, as well as transportation infrastructure. A total of 44,553 facilities across the country were found to have issues.

Facilities for children and youths turned out to be most in need of urgent repairs, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, which was in charge of the evaluations. Among 44,553 facilities that need repairs, 16,996 were children and youth facilities, 38 percent of the total.

Schools were the largest subcategory, accounting for 11,100, followed by child protection zones, playgrounds and youth training centers.

One elementary school didn’t have sidewalks except for a 30-meter (98 feet) stretch close to its main gate. Behind the school, despite a “no parking” sign, about 20 cars were parked. Four accidents occurred around the elementary school during the past five years, including a car rolling over a child’s feet.

Of the 159 youth training centers investigated, 19 used panels that were flammable. Also, 25 facilities lacked instructors who could guide students during emergencies.

Of the total, 9,241 facilities were found to need substantial repairs.

A gym in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, which was built in 1991, was one of them. Some cracks were visible in the gym’s structure. An average of 600 to 700 people used the gym every day.

Some facilities were not prepared for emergencies. Housing facilities such as old apartments accounted for 5,741 cases and 4,795 cases were filed for ferries, cruise ships and overland transportation.

A middle school in Seoul had four safety issues regarding disaster evacuation preparedness. A door to the rooftop was locked and emergency stairs didn’t meet safety standards.

A youth hostel in North Gyeongsang had security grilles, which aren’t allowed at hostels. It also had no means to announce an emergency evacuation.

Rep. Kim Tae-hwan said a third of those cases could have been solved if enough attention had been paid. Those cases included facilities that didn’t have fire extinguishers, emergency evacuation maps or exit routes.

While investigating a nursing hospital in Gyeonggi last May, the investigation team turned on an emergency generator which produced so much smoke that firefighters had to be dispatched.

At another nursing hospital in Gyeonggi, an emergency exit sign was pointed in the wrong direction. The problem was caused during remodeling. Neither the fire alarm system nor a gas alert system for the gas-storage tank worked.

At a subway construction site in Songpa District, southern Seoul, 123 safety inspections were conducted over the past year, and most problems discovered were simple issues such as the absence of evacuation lighting.

“They tend to catch previously unnoticed problems without confirming how things are fixed,” said Dr. Choi Young-ha at Samsung Fire and Marine Insurance’s Global Loss Control Center.

“They need to focus on subsequent actions along with catching the defects in facilities.”

“In many cases, people who go through the security investigation are simultaneously in charge of other jobs and lack professionalism,” said Gwon Dong-il, the chief of the Convergence Research Institute for Forensic Safety.


BY Lee SANG-HWA AND CHOI JONG-KWON [ypc3c@joongang.co.kr]

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