End bad practices

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End bad practices

One week has passed since the collapse of a façade of a 39-story apartment building under construction in Gwangju, South Jeolla. But after the body of one construction worker has been found, families of the remaining five still missing are totally upset as they even don’t know whether they are still alive.

An investigation unit of the Gwangju police has started looking into the possibility that the first-tier contractors of Hyundai Development Company (HDC) — the primary builder — recommissioned subcontractors to build the apartment to help shorten their construction period and save costs by using subpar construction materials. Given the possibility of such a practice having caused the collapse, the police must get to the bottom of the case.

Originally, a company specializing in frameworks for buildings made contract with HDC to pour concrete onto a cast on top of each floor. But none of the eight workers doing the job on the apartment building were employees of the first-tier contractor. Instead, they were sent by a second-tier contractor who leased its pump car equipment to the first-tier contractor.

At first glance, it does not look like the act of recommissioning. But such an illicit recommissioning of works is widespread on construction sites in Korea. If that led to the tragic incident, the companies involved must take responsibility.

In the winter season, up to two weeks of concrete drying is needed for a floor. But if the job is handed down to a subcontractor, corners might be cut. In the construction of the apartment in Gwangju, it only took a week to dry the concrete on each floor.

On Monday, HDC Chairman Chung Mong-kyu announced that he will resign after taking responsibility for the tragic incident. But it is not too late for him to step down as chairman after fixing the situation.

HDC — one of top 10 constructors in terms of the amount of contracts with subcontractors — cannot avoid criticism for a lack of respect for safety. The company was also involved in the deadly collapse last June of a five-story building in a redevelopment zone in the same city. At that time, nine people died. The Ministry of Employment and Labor should be held accountable for its overly light punishment of HDC — 33.2 million won ($27,852) in fines.

The police must find out why such accidents take place on construction sites led by HDC in Gwangju. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport must start probing the hurried constructions of a number of high-rise buildings across the country to eradicate shameful and lethal practices on construction sites.
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