Cover-ups can only lead to tragedyA Cheongju, North Chungcheong-based cosmetics company led a worker who had been severely injured in a forklift accident on site to his death by attempting to avoid accountability. The company resorted to a typical approach businesses often employ to circumvent compensation for an industrial accident: It turned away the emergency ambulance that arrived to take the patient to the nearest hospital and instead sent him to a hospital the company uses. The worker died en route.
Taking an injured person directly to a hospital the company consigns instead of using public emergency ambulance transport is common among companies seeking to escape accountability in workplace accidents. The police closed the case as a traffic accident, and the district labor office concluded the forklift driver was at fault.
Cover-ups are also rampant at industrial sites. Only undeniably fatal accidents are reported, and most injury cases are hidden or tampered with in order to silence or mitigate damage claims and avoid penalties. The same Cheongju-based cosmetic company has been accused of trying to cover up three industrial accidents over the past two years.
Korea reports the highest death rate from industrial accidents among members in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), but the damage rate hovers below the average, underscoring how often disasters are concealed. According to a survey last year by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, among workers who experienced work-related accidents or illness, just 7.2 percent to 20.3 percent of claims were covered by insurance. The amount the occupational health and safety insurance collected reached up to 300 billion won ($251 million) over the last five years, according to a probe looking into cover-up suspicions.
Employers try to hide accidents in the workplace because they could face bigger damages if they report them. Under the current law, covering up an accident is subject to a fine of about 10 million won. But a company with record of industrial accidents is levied with heavier penalties that could put it at a disadvantage when it comes to government bids.
Irresponsible regulations and practices led one worker to his death. Industrial damage policies must be realigned to better ensure the safety of workers and their productivity. Regulators must strengthen supervision and penalties on employers who conceal accidents. An unsafe industrial environment can ruin the lives of workers as well as corporate competitiveness.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 22, Page 30