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More deaths at workplaces after job safety standards eased

By Lee Moo-young, JoongAng Ilbo, 26 September 2002

An electrician working on a power pole in Geoje, South Gyeongsang province, fell 12 meters to his death in March when the U-bolt clipped to his safety harness broke.

The bolt was found to be a substandard import that had not been inspected by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency. The accident is one of a growing number blamed on failed safety devices used on the job.

The number of accidental deaths on the job rose to 42 in 2000 from 30 in 1998, according to data submitted to the National Assembly by the Ministry of Labor. The number of casualties, including deaths, from industrial accidents rose to 81,400 last year from 55,500 in 1998.

Beginning in 1997, as part of the government’s regulatory reform policy, nearly 30 industrial safety regulations have been scrapped and 41 relaxed. Quality standards for industrial equipment have dropped sharply, Representative Oh Se-hoon of the Grand National Party said. He recently went on a shopping tour in Seoul’s Jongno district, where hardware stores are concentrated, and randomly picked out 11 pieces of safety equipment for testing. All but one were declared inadequate by the occupational safety agency.

Relaxing the requirements for equipment manufacturers have led to a lot of smaller businesses in the industry, Mr. Oh said. And that has contributed to the decline in quality.

The safety agency reported that just 24 of the country’s 633 registered manufacturers of safety devices are equipped to conduct quality testing.

A Ministry of Labor official said the agency is planning to review a recent proposal by the Federation of Korean Trade Unions to pass and enforce tougher workplace safety standards.