Many people expressed their condolences as portal sites, Naver and Daum, created online memorial spaces.
/Photography extracted from Naver and Daum
Many safety accidents take place frequently. There are several accidents that people cannot avoid, such as natural disasters, but also man-made disasters in which harm could have been minimized or prevented damage with consciousness before and after the accident. There were repeated pointers saying that “safety unconsciousness,” which makes people think “nothing will happen” or “that it will be okay” even if they know that specific situations can be dangerous, is surrounding Korean society. It means that people act carelessly without fully appreciating the risk in advance. Recently, news of people who passed away or were injured due to lack of safety accidents has been constantly heard, and views about safety awareness have resurfaced. How can we prevent and deal with these accidents?
Factories lack safety training and manuals
On October 15th, a worker of an SPC Group-affiliated bread factory in Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do, died as she got trapped in a sauce mixing machine. SPC is a large company that occupies about 83% of the domestic bread market. However, after this accident, some pointed out that SPC has poor working conditions and lacks safety measures. According to the National Forensic Service, it is estimated that the worker fell to the machine since the spinning wing caught her right arm. In this regard, there are some possibilities that the worker reached into the machine to mix the sauce quickly, or that she lost her concentration due to overwork. Over the past five years, 17 workers have been killed in a sauce mixer. However, the mixers have not been subject to government safety checks. In the case of the SPC bread factory accident, some experts and the workers who were at the site said that despite the high-intensity work environment, there was no safety training for workers. The manual indicates that the workers should work in pairs. Actually, they had never seen such a manual before.
The following measure of SPC and its affiliates brought up another controversy. Right after the accident, the bread factory operated the production with another machine, covering the accident site with a cloth. Fellow workers at the scene at the time of the accident were pushed ahead to work despite severe psychological injuries and grief. The company faced even more criticism when it was revealed that the company left the bread boxes of its affiliate, Paris Baguette, at the funeral hall of the deceased. As a result, people started to boycott affiliated brands or hold one-man protests due to the inappropriate response of SPC. After the accident, the chairman of SPC held a press conference on October 21st to apologize and announced measures to prevent a recurrence that would invest 100 billion won over three years to reinforce the safety system. However, on October 23rd, only two days after the accident, another worker in another affiliated bread factory got his finger stuck and cut off in a machine. The apologies and safety management promises were overshadowed. The bereaved family filed a complaint against SPC on charges of violating the Act on Punishment of Serious Disasters.
Corporate mismanagement creates bigger problems
On another day, October 26th, at around 6 P.M., a burial accident occurred at the first shaft of the zinc mine in Bonghwa, Jaesan-myeon, Gyeongsangbuk-do. About 900 tons of soil were poured vertically down for about 30 minutes, isolating seven workers. Two of them escaped on their own around 8 P.M. and three were rescued by the company around 11 P.M.. Fortunately, two workers were rescued 221 hours after the accident. During the rescue, the access road for the rescue team was continuously drilled, but a longer time was spent than expected due to the large rocks and high strength in the section. 117 personnel and 32 pieces of equipment were used for the rescue.
The company called 119 for help after 8 A.M. on the 27th, 14 hours after the accident. The family of the isolated workers was able to hear the news then. In addition, there was also another accident at a different point in the same shaft in August. Less than two months later, the same accident occurred again, which was criticized as resuming labor without any action or countermeasures regarding the accident. The family of the isolated worker pointed out in an interview that it was the same mine that had an accident last time, and the company caused the problem by using aging facilities and maintenance without any alertness.
The whole country suffered from an unexpected accident
At 10:15 P.M. on October 29th, a massive casualty accident occurred at an alley near the Hamilton Hotel in Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, killing 156 people and injuring 198 people. Tens of thousands gathered in Itaewon on Saturday night ahead of Halloween. It was found that too many people flocked to a narrow alley with a width of about four meters, causing congestion in an instant, and as some began to fall, they fell one after another and piled up, resulting in a surge in casualties. Fire authorities have received dozens of reports of people suffering from breathing difficulties since 10:15 P.M.. The relief was delayed due to difficulties in entering the crowded alley. As such, the number of casualties continued to increase. At 10:43 P.M., the first stage of response was issued, and at 11:13 P.M., the second stage of response was issued, asking businesses in Itaewon to stop the Halloween festival. At 11:50 P.M., it was upgraded to the third stage of response. 142 ambulances, a number of rescue personnel and equipment were deployed. President Yoon Suk-yeol declared Yongsan-gu, Seoul, a special disaster area. After that, the medical examination process for the victims of the accident was completed quickly, and they could be reunited with their families. In a public statement, President Yoon told the public that the end of the accident would be set as a period of national mourning, and that the accident would be handled and followed up, to prevent recurrence in the future.
Many people mourned the loss of young people and their bereaved families in an unexpected accident. They felt sorry for the “Itaewon disaster” since it is a case of a large-scale human accident even though the cause, responsibility, and circumstances of the accident are not clear. On the other hand, the testimony of some on-site witnesses also refers to the problem of the situation at the time. According to testimony, people shouted, “move back” at the scene to maintain order on their own. However, some mistakenly heard, “push (similar pronunciation in Korean)” and pushed the people in front of them. There was also a saying that the situation worsened as crowds gathered at once to see some celebrities. In addition, some pointed out that the Hamilton Hotel, a building right next to the accident site, recently narrowed the passageway by expanding its terrace without permission, while others say the police have lacked contingency plans. The police plan to set up an investigation headquarters to investigate the cause of the accident in earnest. They will investigate the origin of the accident based on statements and closed-circuit television (CCTV) by reporters, witnesses, and nearby business owners. They will also check whether the local government in charge has faithfully taken accident prevention measures in advance. Not only the government and people of Korea, but also the leaders, media, and people all around the world are expressing their condolences and consolation. Major media tried to organize a special breaking news to deliver related information in real-time. There was an opinion that a more thorough investigation should be made so that they could find out how to prevent the same accident.
Why can our society not prevent repeated safety accidents? Currently, in our society, many other accidents are causing unfortunate damage. According to Seol Dong-hoon, sociology professor of Jeonbuk National University, accidents occur repeatedly even though prevention of recurrence has been kept mentioned. Korea is not a safe society yet. He also pointed out that the government and the National Assembly should prepare preventive measures that are close to reality, and citizens should also have a sense of safety.
Hwang Chae-yeon email@example.com