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Apology offered in Taean plant tragedy

But actions and words so far are seen falling short of what’s needed
Dec 18,2018
Korea Western Power, the operator of the thermal power plant in Taean County, South Chungcheong, publicly apologized for the death of 24-year-old Kim Yong-gyun, a contract employee who was killed while inspecting and cleaning a coal conveyor belt.

The apology came nearly a week after the Dec. 11 accident.

It has also been the subject of considerable criticism as it failed to speak directly to the family of the deceased and failed to deal with the facts of the incident, shed light on the tragedy or hold anyone accountable.

The apology from the power company was first sent to reporters late Sunday and published in Monday’s newspapers.

Korea Western Power did make a number of concessions. In addition to apologizing for the accident, it promised cooperation with the authorities in their investigations, said it would provide support to the family and colleagues affected by the incident and convert contract workers to full-time employees.

A committee with representatives from labor unions, civic groups and religious bodies was formed on Monday. It criticized the power company, saying it was playing public relations games and avoiding issues that need to be resolved: revealing the truth, coming up with preventative measures and punishing those responsible.

It also noted that no discussions were held with the family.

“I want to ask how such a horrible accident happened at a public company that should be clean, transparent and a model in our society,” said Kim Mi-sook, the mother of the late employee, during a press briefing held in front of the Blue House. “I want an investigation on the truth of the death of my son.”

President Moon Jae-in commented on the death for the first time since the incident.

“The recent KTX accident, the water heat pipe incident and the unfortunate death of a worker at the Taean Thermal Power Plant have raised awareness on the need to put the public and safety first over efficiency in managing public companies,” President Moon said on Monday during a meeting with ministers. “The public sector needs to work on converting contract workers to regular workers and must not outsource jobs that are dangerous or related to safety.”

The government on Monday announced safety measures. They include a requirement that two people work as a team when inspecting dangerous facilities and that conveyor belts and other equipment be stopped when dangerous activities involving them are undertaken.

No one with less six months experience should be in the field alone, and workers will also have to wear full safety gear.

Dangerous facilities will be inspected to check whether safety fences are in place and whether emergency switches are working properly.

The government said it will come up with accident-prevention measures while reviewing whether the number of people hired meets the number needed for all tasks. It will form a safety management committee with representatives from the power plant, business partners, workers and civic groups.

It added that it will reinvestigate the incident and inspect all thermal power plants.

“In hopes of resolving the public’s suspicions over the cause of the accident, we will set up an industrial safety investigation committee made of experts recommended by the labor union, the company and the family of the deceased,” said Labor Minister Lee Jae-gap.

The committee will have 10 members and look into the relevant issues for six months. The minister said the government will thoroughly investigate the case.


BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]