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Night duty temp crushed to death in power plant

Tragedy returns the spotlight to plight of contract workers
Dec 14,2018
Kim Yong-gyun, a 24-year-old temporary worker, was found dead at a Korea Western Power (WP) power plant in Taean County, South Chungcheong, on Tuesday crushed by a steel conveyer belt.

Kim was the sole inspector checking operations of the plant the night he died, and his death is returning attention to dangerous working conditions for contract workers in Korea.

Kim worked for the Korea Engineering & Power Services (KEPS), a subcontractor for WP that is in charge of operating the conveyer belts that supply fuel to WP’s Taean thermal power plant. Kim was employed by KEPS on a contract basis in September.

People in the industry say it’s manifestly dangerous for a single person to supervise the operations of a power plant on their own.

“In the past, we have asked the company to change the inspection process by making sure that at least two people do the job together,” said Shin Dae-won, a representative for the KEPS labor union, during a phone interview with CBS Radio on Wednesday. “However, our demands were never accepted.”

Shin speculated that Kim, who was known to be a meticulous inspector, must have died while trying to inspect the steel conveyer belt too closely.

“The area [in which Kim was found dead] was originally supposed to be supervised by two people, not one,” an official from KEPS admitted.

Colleagues of Kim gathered in front of the power plant on Wednesday to hold a protest demanding that his death be investigated thoroughly, and that working conditions be improved.

“They say that one person’s life needs to be sacrificed for change to happen,” said a colleague of Kim who spoke at Wednesday’s protest. “[If that’s true], then how many deaths do we have to go through [before our working conditions get better]? I hope that Kim is living a better life up there [in heaven] as a worker on the permanent payroll.”

According to some of Kim’s colleagues, WP asked them to not say negative things that would be problematic for the company.

“I was asked to say nothing to the press by a WP official who was in charge of overseeing our operation,” said a worker on the condition of anonymity. Some workers even claimed they were told by WP officials to say that the area in which Kim died was an area that wasn’t often inspected by workers.

“Instead of waiting for the investigation to be completed, the officials from the thermal power plant have asked if they could restart the conveyer to compensate for all of the delayed work,” said Shin. “This is the attitude they adopt in the face of death.”

The Taean Police Precinct, which is in charge of investigating Kim’s death, said that it would call in witnesses and look into charging the supervisor of the plant with involuntary manslaughter.

BY SHIN JIN-HO, PARK KWANG-SOO and JEONG JU-WON [jeong.juwon@joongang.co.kr]