Focusing on preventionOn Dec. 11, 2018, 24-year-old Kim Yong-gyun was found dead after being sucked into a conveyor belt while on an inspection alone at a power plant in Taean, South Chungcheong. There was an instant noodle cup next to the body of the irregular worker. A similar accident also took the life of a young outsourced worker, who died while inspecting a subway alone in 2016. Both deaths came from outsourcing hazardous works. Many irregular workers died while doing dangerous tasks with minimum safety protection. The power plant discussed post-death measures for five hours without notifying the police and hospital after discovering the body.
A law toughening liability on employers for neglecting safety measures and causing casualties has passed the National Assembly to prevent such negligence and tragic accidents. The law is aimed at reducing occupational deaths that reached 855 last year and raising more public awareness about safety at work sites. But whether the law can fulfill its goal is still uncertain. Under the new law, the corporate owner, CEO and manager of safety would go to prison if anyone dies at a workplace or if more than two are injured. The company must shoulder the liability for any deaths of subcontractors. The employer will face up to a year in jail and a 1-billion-won ($915,751) fine. The company will also be fined up to 5 billion won. The punishment has been toughened, but the law does not specify the safety duties or the grounds for punishment for accidents. In short, the company under liability is on its own to muster the resources to prove innocence through trial.
It raises questions about whether lawmakers gave any thought about the ramifications of the law. A law must not be designed to punish employers. Lawmakers exempted workplaces employing less than five from the liability.
However, as many as 494 died in workplaces of less than five employees. The number of car accidents cannot be reduced if the speed limit only applies to large cars and exempts smaller ones. Companies are breaking up their businesses to employ less than five to avoid multiple regulations.
If deemed ineffective, the law should be amended. The law will be effective on workplaces of more than 50 employees a year after the law is promulgated. Legislators must make revisions during the period to lessen side effects. What is the use of punishing the employer after someone dies? The law must be revised to prevent occupational accidents in advance.