Published : 2013-03-11 19:48
Updated : 2013-03-11 19:48
Many citizens in the industrial city of Gumi, North Gyeongsang Province, are seriously thinking about relocating as they are terrified by an unending series of industrial disasters.
This month alone, three industrial accidents took place, spooking the city’s 400,000 citizens. Just as a burned child dreads the fire, they are still seared by the memory of the massive hydrofluoric acid leak last September that left five dead and many more injured.
On March 7, a large oil tank containing 4,000 liters of bunker B oil exploded at a refinery of Hankook Kwang-Yu Co., a producer of mineral oil. Fortunately no one was hurt but had the 200,000-liter tank been filled, the explosion could have been disastrous.
Two days earlier, chlorine gas leaked from a plant at Gumi Chemical Co., leaving 11 workers hospitalized and causing some 200 people to need medical checkups. The workers were transferring liquid chlorine from a storage tank to a truck without knowing that the valve in the ventilation system was faulty.
On March 2, a mixture of hydrofluoric, nitric and acetic acids leaked from a wafer-manufacturing factory of LG Siltron, a subsidiary of LG Group. The leak occurred when factory workers were testing the chemicals after replacing a damaged filter cover of the container holding them.
The main factor behind these accidents is company management and workers’ insensitivity to safety. The oil tank that exploded on Thursday reportedly has not undergone a thorough safety check since 1999.
The chlorine gas leak at Gumi Chemical could have been averted had the workers checked whether the ventilation system worked or not before starting their job. They simply did not follow the safety rules.
Employees at LG Siltron did not take any safety measures either before beginning their work.
To prevent industrial accidents, corporations need to regularly evaluate their safety culture and invest in safety measures if necessary. They should realize that a single industrial mishap can deal a fatal blow to their businesses.
Companies should put safety ahead of all else and make sure that their workers never fail to follow safety regulations.
The central and local governments also need to step up regulatory efforts to minimize industrial accidents. The Gumi city government in particular is required to beef up its team of officials inspecting companies dealing with toxic chemicals.
In the city’s industrial complex, some 160 companies out the 1,700 accommodated handle toxic agents. The municipal government said that after the disastrous hydrofluoric acid leak last September, it conducted a special inspection of these companies and found no problems.
The inspection must have been not thorough enough. The city government needs to be reminded that many of the industrial facilities in the complex were built decades ago, which means they are vulnerable to accidents.
This is also true of the facilities in other industrial complexes, such as those in Ulsan on the southeastern coast and Yeosu on the southern coast.
In this regard, the central government needs to have comprehensive safety checks conducted on plants in industrial complexes across the nation.
President Park Geun-hye has consistently stressed that ensuring the safety of the people is a critical element of a happy nation. So much so that she has renamed the Ministry of Public Administration and Security to the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration.
Following the chlorine gas leak, she told safety minister nominee Yoo Jeong-bok to visit Gumi and come up with fundamental measures to prevent such accidents. Yoo said he would draw up preventive manuals. He needs to establish a system that can monitor the production and use of toxic chemicals more systematically.