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THE INVESTOR
May 11, 2021

Labor Ministry vows to strengthen role in preventing industrial accidents

  • PUBLISHED :February 24, 2021 - 17:15
  • UPDATED :February 24, 2021 - 17:16
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Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap speaks during a press briefing held in Sejong. (Ministry of Employment and Labor)

The government will prepare guidelines and a protective network for industrial accidents to strengthen its role as an overseer and administrator over malpractice, as the country continues to report deaths from workers on duty, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said Wednesday.

In a press briefing, Labor Minister Lee Jae-kap said the ministry is preparing to work with industries and corporations to create detailed guidelines that fall well within the realities of those obliged to follow.

“We have set up a safety management system by passing the bill on enhancing employer liability in industrial accidents last year, and we are working on making this more detailed so that companies can actually put the law into practice,” Lee said.

“The focus is to create a system where companies can voluntarily work to create protective instruments, and I believe that is a way for the number of industrial accidents to fall noticeably.”

Industrial accidents continued to rise as an issue even after the ministry strengthened monitoring of worksites and warned that companies failing to protect their employees from accidents at work will be dealt with sternly.

The issue gained additional spotlight recently after an employee of a Posco subcontractor died while replacing a conveyor roller at Pohang steel mill on Feb. 8. Posco Chairman Choi Jung-woo visited the plant last week and issued a public apology.

According to the steelmaker’s labor union, a total of 14 deaths have been observed since Choi was appointed in July 2018, eight of which have been confirmed as industrial accidents by the Labor Ministry.

The labor minister said the number of industrial accidents will fall noticeably once the ministry’s ongoing projects achieve progress. Part of the itiatives entails the official launch of the Occupational Safety and Health Headquarters in 2023.

“There will be a division solely tasked with preventing industrial accidents (in the new agency), and that will allow the Ministry of Employment and Labor to set up a special maintenance network in collaboration with local governments,” the minister said.

“Around half of all industrial accidents come from the construction sector, so we could create a whole separate division tasked with the construction sector.”

The new agency will be launched as a spinoff independent administration from the Labor Ministry. The body will be in charge of investigating violators of what’s known as the “severe disaster law.”

Under the law, which passed last month at the National Assembly and officially takes effect early next year, business owners can be sentenced to at least one year in prison or a fine of up to 1 billion won ($900,000) if a fatal industrial accident occurs upon failure to comply with workplace safety rules.

The new law applies to businesses with five or more workers and has a grace period of three years to take effect.

“If wanting to cut the number of industrial accidents, firms have to prepare safety measures voluntarily and be equipped with ways to find risk factors on their own,” Lee added.

“The government has to strengthen supervision and monitoring of the industrial accident rules in place, and those out at the field should closely follow safety rules like wearing safety devices.”

In addressing continued job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, the labor minister said the ministry is preparing some response measures but declined to elaborate, as the measures are dependent on the passage of a supplementary budget in discussion among officials.

Lee said he is aware that unemployment is serious for young job seekers and that risks are high for the financial losses of small merchants and business owners to continue.

While he acknowledged that the employment insurance fund is not in a stable state, Lee said the ministry has no problem in executing and providing unemployment benefits and employment assistant programs to those in need.

The minister said his officials are preparing vocational education programs and working with firms to stimulate the labor market. Additional training programs are also in preparation for opportunities that are expected to be made available after COVID-19 pandemic is over, he added.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)

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