Too many blind spots
A fire at a guesthouse in Damyang, South Jeolla, killed four university students and injured six others over the weekend. The accident underscores that the country has learned little on the safety front even after the April 16 Sewol ferry sinking that killed nearly 300. Only last month, we made the same lament when a ventilation grate gave way killing 16 spectators standing on it to watch an outdoor concert. Must we wait for news of deaths to find other safety blind spots in our society?
Guesthouses have mushroomed across the country over recent years due to a boom in outdoor activities. But they too can be potential danger zones if our culture of sloppiness is not addressed and reversed.
The barbecue hut where a fire was set was made of flammable materials: a wooden floor, plastic panels, and dried grass for the roof. How anyone could have built a barbecue hut with such fire-prone materials is beyond belief. The fire began when one of the guests poured water on the charcoal fire to put it out, causing sparks that caught on the flammable roof. No sprinklers or fire extinguishers were nearby. The 50-square-meter (538-square-foot) hut was an illegal establishment that the owner had not included in the initial guesthouse design that was reported to authorities. The guesthouse was too small to fall under regular safety inspections by local authorities. It only received random fire inspections from the local fire department, which found nothing wrong.
The government said it has conducted safety examinations of 240,000 facilities across the nation since the Sewol tragedy. They included youth hostels, but not small private guesthouses. Guesthouses have become popular weekend destinations for families and yet they were excluded from safety checks. Authorities must answer to their irresponsibility.
The government must re-examine its promise to strengthen safety checks following the Sewol sinking. All facilities and public places people use regardless of their scale must be examined.
The safety administrative system also requires a makeover. Guesthouses are permitted by local governments and safety inspections are conducted by the fire department. This system leaves loopholes. A single authority should supervise safety infrastructure from the beginning. The accident also exposed poor crisis management. Local government, fire departments, and police should share information and move as one organ. The government must keep its promise to make this country a safe place to live.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 17, Page 34