Civic groups and politicians on Wednesday stepped up criticism of Samsung Electronics over a toxic chemical leak at one of its semiconductor lines that killed one worker and injured four others. The workers were from a subcontractor.
Approximately two to 10 liters of hydrofluoric acid leaked in the incident that took place on Sunday.
According to the Industrial Safety and Health Law, business operators that deal with toxic chemicals are legally responsible for safety matters.
“The accident occurred in a pipe containing toxic chemicals, so Samsung should take responsibility for the accident,” said Choi Myeong-sun, a director at the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.
“Samsung neither issued an evacuation order to its employees nor reported the leak right after the accident to the local authorities,” said the Citizens’ Institute for Environmental Studies and Friends of the Earth Korea in a joint press statement, adding “(the clumsy response) was a crime that threatened the lives of the workers and residents in the area.”
Politicians also called for a strict investigation to find the cause of the accident and to see whether Samsung tried to cover it up.
Critics claim Samsung delayed its report of the leak to local authorities; tried to hide the facts by saying the workers who were repairing the broken pipe did not wear protective suits; and blocked police access to the site.
An attempt to block the holes with a plastic bag at first has raised doubt over whether a proper set of measures for emergencies even existed at the world’s top electronics company.
The subcontracted workers were also sent from hospital to hospital, allegedly to keep the accident from being leaked to reporters.
While Samsung hesitated to report the leak to authorities, one of the workers died. It finally reported the accident 25 hours after the initial leak.
When hydrofluoric acid infiltrates the body, it reacts with calcium and magnesium ions, depleting the levels of calcium, a necessary substance for muscle movement, to cause paralysis and even affect heart function.
The latest accident at the factory might not be the first, according to media reports.
A 37-year old worker was injured by coming in contact with hydrofluoric acid while checking pipes in September 2010, according to a thesis in a journal published by the Korean Society of Occupational and Environment Medicine.
The thesis did not reveal the name of the firm but said the semiconductor plant had 20,000 employees and the injured person was an engineer in charge of the maintenance of the hydrofluoric acid pipeline.
“Samsung deeply regrets that the accident that took the life of one worker occurred, and gives its sincere condolences to the bereaved family,” said Kwon Oh-hyun, the chief executive officer of Samsung Electronics, promising the firm would tighten its regulations on safety and environmental matters.
The police said it would take one to two weeks to verify the cause of the accident and the worker’s death.
By Kim Young-won (firstname.lastname@example.org