At an amusement park in Daegu, South Korea, a part-time worker recently lost his leg after falling off a roller coaster. While the worker was checking passengers’ seatbelts, his leg got stuck under the roller coaster, and it started to move. Some argued that the park’s poor safety guidelines were to blame for the accident. The guidelines state that a single worker can operate up to six rides.
Many have bemoaned the accident, while fiercely criticizing the amusement park for neglecting the safety of part-time workers. Alas, this is not the first time Koreans have been frustrated by employers’ failure to ensure safe working conditions, particularly for casual workers.
In 2016, a 19-year-old trainee lost his life after being hit by a subway train while fixing a screen door at a station in Seoul. The trainee had been dispatched from a subcontractor to Seoul Metro. An investigation into the accident found that Seoul Metro did not provide proper safety education to dispatched workers. The investigation also found that Seoul Metro had made the safety of workers a low priority to cut costs.
Since that tragedy, Korean society has been calling for a tightened Industrial Workers’ Safety Law, and have started to view the safety of workers as an important issue. But despite citizens’ concerns, another tragic death caused by dangerous working conditions was reported this year.
A contract worker at a plant owned by Hyundai Steel died after being sucked into a conveyor belt. People were outraged at the accident, with some pointing out that as many as 30 workers, mostly dispatched from subcontractors, had died in Hyundai Steel plants over the past decade.
After the most recent accident at a Hyundai Steel plant, Changhyeon Shin, a lawmaker of the ruling United Democratic Party, stated that an audit had found 2,401 violations of safety rules in plants owned by Hyundai Steel. In response, Hyundai Steel has belatedly set up a commission on workers’ safety.
Article 5 of the Industrial Workers’ Safety Law obliges employers to take preventive actions by ensuring safety at the workplace, by maintaining a safe environment. Employers have to provide information about safety and relevant guidelines to workers. As stated in the law, employers have to check how safe the conditions are for their workers, whether they are permanent or casual staff.
Korean employers must take this law seriously and prioritize the prevention of accidents, rather than shutting the stable door after the horses have bolted.