Changing to a risk-managed society

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Changing to a risk-managed society

The chain train accidents have been unnerving citizens. A delayed fix after a train derailed near Yeongdeungpo Station in western Seoul on Sunday worsened the morning rush hour on Monday. Commuting by subway was also affected by protest rallies by wheelchair users. While public safety unrest has been heightened by the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon, the union of Seoul Metro has warned of a general strike on Nov. 30.

The train accident near Yeongdeungpo Station injured 35. The Kuro-Yongsan train operation was suspended until the following afternoon. But the Seoul city government and the Yeongdeungpo District office sent out messages that railways were normalized, which caused more confusion.

Train accidents can cause deadly casualties. KTX and SRT trains derailed in January and July. On Nov. 5, a worker died while connecting the lines for cargo trains. Workers also died in July and September after being hit by trains. Korail promised preventive actions, but accidents have not gone away.

Still, the Seoul Metro union is threatening to strike. A general strike by members of the union could halve subway operations. Traffic chaos during rush hour is inevitable. It cannot be right to risk public safety when society is still traumatized from the Itaewon crowd crush before Halloween.

The union demands the withdrawal of a plan to lay off 1,549 employees. Seoul Metro has been incurring a deficit of around 1 trillion won ($742 million) a year. Labor cost has shot up after 1,285 irregular workers went on the regular payroll in 2018 under the Moon Jae-in administration’s policy to entirely convert irregular workers to regular employees in public entities. Many of the workers concerted into full-time jobs were found to be relatives of existing employees.

German sociologist Ulrich Beck pointed out that we live in a risk society due to irresponsible systems and excessive selfishness while technology advances threaten people’s survival and safety. Unlike the collapse of Sampoong Department Store and the Seongsu Bridge during the industrialized period, the latest accidents stem from a lack of system and safety negligence of public officials. They could have been prevented in a risk-managed society.

How to contain growing risks from social advances is a challenge. Public servants and providers of public services must do their best in playing their role. A systematic manual is needed. But applying it to reality is equally important.

Land and Transportation Minister Won Hee-ryong said that everything must change after the Korail train accident. We can move toward a risk-managing society when social awareness and system change to prevent big and small accidents.
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