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Companies better prepared to handle workplace safety law after 1 year: report

Feb. 9, 2023 - 16:31 By Jo He-rim
An employee monitors a production line at a factory. (Yonhap)

A year after the country’s introduction of a workplace safety law, more companies have launched teams overseeing safety and gained a better understanding of the controversial act, a report said on Thursday.

The latest report by the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry revealed that the number of companies who have launched a team to specifically handle workplace safety and health almost doubled in the past year.

The latest survey was conducted in January and the previous one was carried out 100 days after the Serious Accidents Punishment Act took effect on Jan. 27, 2022.

The act, which imposes criminal liability on individuals and entities responsible for “serious accidents,” passed the National Assembly on Jan. 8, 2021 and came into effect a year later.

In the May 2022 survey, 45.2 percent of 290 companies with more than five employees responded that they have a division specifically handling workplace safety. In Thursday's report, the figure showed that this figure jumped to 75.5 percent.

The portion of companies that have deployed special personnel to handle the safety issues also more than doubled from 31.6 percent in May 2022 to 66.9 percent in January 2023.

The number of companies saying that they understand the act also increased, from the previous 30.7 percent to 61.3 percent. The act was initially criticized by companies as "ambiguous."

"The survey shows how companies are actively responding to the Serious Accidents Punishment Act, raising their understanding of the law by participating in information sessions and studying various data related to the act," a KCCI official said in a press release.

"At the same, they are actively making investments to establish industrial safety inspection systems, getting legal advice and consultations."

The act, which is aimed at punishing the employers and chief executives for failing to fulfill their duties in preventing fatal accidents, had received backlash from companies at first, as it raised questions on how companies would prove the liability of individuals.

Small and mid-sized companies, however, continue to struggle to meet the legal requirements, the report showed.

While 87.9 percent of large corporations with over 300 employees among the 290 firms launched safety control teams, 66.9 percent of mid-sized companies with between 50-299 employees had such teams. For small-sized companies with between five-49 employees, the figure stood at 35 percent.

Over 80 percent of small-sized companies and 44 percent of mid-sized companies said that they still lack understanding of the workplace safety law and have difficulties taking responsive measures. Among large corporations, only 28.2 percent struggled with the law, the report added.

Regarding improvements, 65.5 percent of the 290 companies said the government should come up with a waiver provision to exclude legal liability for accidents where there was no intentional or gross negligence on the business operator's behalf.

Businesses also called for more concrete provisions clarifying the company's duties in securing workplace safety.