Offices raided after deadly explosion in Yeosu
Police on Monday raided the offices of two companies involved in a deadly explosion at a petrochemical plant in Yeosu, South Jeolla that killed four workers on Friday.
The raid on the offices of Yeochun NCC and a maintenance contractor, which the South Jeolla Provincial Police Agency carried out in tandem with the Labor Ministry, was aimed at collecting evidence of whether proper safety checks were carried out on a heat exchange system at the plant.
The explosion, which happened at 9:26 a.m. at a naptha cracker owned by Yeochun NCC in the Yeosu Industrial Complex caused the deaths of four workers and injuries to four more. Three of the workers killed were employees of the maintenance company.
Workers who witnessed the blast said it happened during a test of a heat exchange system after it was cleaned by the maintenance company.
The cleaning process and associated tests afterwards are a routine procedure carried out every four years, according to a Yeocheon NCC official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Heat exchange systems at industrial plants convert heat produced during chemical processing into steam.
Police believe that the explosion occurred while employees of the contractor increased the internal pressure of the heat exchange system after cleaning it to check for gas leaks.
Investigators theorize that the equipment exploded as pressure mounted, blowing a seal weighing one ton onto the workers.
Police said Monday that they secured witness testimony that irregularities occurred during the test run of the heat exchange system, and that the raid was carried out to confiscate more evidence on this claim.
The Labor Ministry ordered the naptha cracker where the accident occurred to halt production while it investigates the explosion.
Yeochun NCC has two other plants in Yeosu. Both remain in operation.
The South Jeolla Police Agency also arrested an employee in charge of the Yeosu plant on Friday on suspicion of occupational negligence in relation to the explosion.
As a result of the explosion, Yeochun NCC is likely to become the first petrochemical company to face punishment under a new industrial accident law enacted last month.
Owners and CEOs of companies with five or more employees are subject to a minimum one-year jail sentence or a fine of up to 1 billion won ($833,600) in the event of a serious industrial accident if they are found to have neglected safety conditions in a workplace.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]