Prevention is a priority over punishment

입력 2022. 12. 4. 19:53
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The Yoon Suk-yeol government must achieve its goal to bring down serious industrial accidents to the average levels of the OECD.

The government last week in its road map to reduce casualties and disasters at worksites changed the supervisory system to pre-emptively preventing potential dangers through risk control from the current punishment-oriented system. Such a direction is already in place in developed countries with fewer industrial accidents.

The shift comes on the judgment that accidents have not decreased despite toughened punishments. From Jan. 27, the Serious Accidents Punishment Act took effect, but 224 were killed from industrial accidents as of October, up 17 from a year ago. Under tougher punishments, companies trotted out superficial safety actions and sought more legal consulting to help employers avoid criminal punishments. There have not been significant improvements in safety awareness in industrial sites or changes in organizational culture to put safety first.

Under the new road map, the safety evaluation system recommended that work sites since 2013 will become mandatory incrementally from next year. The aim is to have employers and employees work together to identify hazardous and dangerous risks to preemptively devise measures and follow up on them.

Financial penalties would be upped. Levying fines on a certain ratio of company sales for their work site casualties could be more effective in persuading companies to invest more in safety than punishing the managerial chief. The 679 safety regulations on industrial sites also will be simplified.

But both the management and labor have responded disapprovingly of the new road map. Employers are disgruntled with the additional regulation of mandating danger assessment instead of supplementing the Serious Accidents Prevention Act. While most developed economies leave safety evaluation onto companies, Korea is out to set punitive guidelines for incompliance, employers complain. The labor sector on the other hand thinks that if accident prevention measures rely too much on the corporate will, it could pardon employers from liability in occupational deaths.

The complaints from both management and labor suggest the government outline does not favor one particular side. What matters is how effective safety evaluation it will be. The supervisory role and professionalism must be raised. While hearing the complaints of both sides, the road map should stay intact. The business sector must acknowledge that the self-regulated safety assessment system from the past 10 years has not helped improve safety examination, and the labor sector should accept stronger punitive measures have not helped reduce accidents at worksites.

Workers’ desire to return home safely must be respected. The Yoon Suk-yeol government must achieve its goal to bring down serious industrial accidents to the average levels of the OECD. The government must work harder to persuade the legislature for cooperation.

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