Clear confusion over workplace safety lawToday marks the 100th day after the Serious Accidents Punishment Act went into effect on January 27. The law stipulates that CEOs can be jailed for more than a year or fined up to 1 billion won ($789,578) if industrial accidents cause deaths. Yet the death toll from industrial accidents didn’t decrease. According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor, 59 industrial accidents took place through May 3 and 94 workers were killed or seriously injured. Most of the accidents occurred in manufacturing (45.8 percent) and at construction sites (37.3 percent).
It was in 2020 that a revision to the Industrial Safety Act was put into action after the sad death in 2018 of a part-time worker at a power station in South Chungcheong. Earlier this year, the Serious Accidents Punishment Act went into effect to hold managers accountable for such mishaps at industrial and construction sites. But reality is still grim.
CEOs must take responsibility for industrial accidents if they had not taken safety measures. But the goal of the Serious Accidents Punishment Act is prevention, not punishment. The government must not ignore complaints from companies about the ambiguity over the scope of the application of the law. In March, the ministry reported to President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol’s transition committee about its plan to address the lack of detail in the law to reduce confusion in the field. It should have done it earlier.
Large companies can reduce their confusion by referring to experts, but small companies cannot respond to the changed regulations effectively. A recent survey shows that only 50.6 percent of SMEs are well aware of their obligations. If the law is extended to companies hiring fewer than 50 workers from 2024, the problem will get worse.
The incoming administration’s 110 national initiatives include “creating a society where the value of labor is respected.” Top priority is placed on “reinforced prevention of industrial accidents.” The idea includes drawing up a roadmap to achieve the goal and building a comprehensive portal to help small workplaces. What attracts our attention is the incoming administration’s plan to straighten a number of decrees related to industrial safety. The new government must first clear confusion in the field.
In a confirmation hearing on Wednesday, labor minister nominee Lee Jung-sik pledged to prevent industrial accidents. Such tragic deaths as the part-time worker at the power plant should not be repeated.