Serious Disasters Act Takes Effect

The law is among the most significant steps toward redressing South Korea's world-leading industrial accident rate.

Serious Disasters Act Takes Effect

Photo: Sampyo Industry's quarry accident likely killed three workers. Credit: Gyeonggi-do Province.

The Act on Punishment for Serious Disasters 중대재해처벌법, which was enacted in January 2021, took effect on January 27, 2022. The Serious Disasters Act is one of the biggest governmental initiatives in recent years to combat fatal industrial accidents.

As of 2017, 3.61 per 100k South Korean workers were killed in an industrial accident, far exceeding the OECD average of 2.43. Many of the deaths came from South Korea’s construction industry, which had 25.45 deaths per 100k workers - more than triple the OECD average of 8.29.

In the case of an industrial accident with one or more deaths, two or more cases of serious injuries, or three or more cases of serious illnesses, the Serious Disasters Act penalizes executives of a company that employed the workers with prison sentences and fines. The law currently applies to businesses with more than 50 workers; the law’s coverage will expand to businesses with more than five workers by 2024.

An industrial accident that would qualify for the Serious Disasters Act occurred only two days after the law took effect. On January 27, three workers were buried in a rockslide at a quarry operated by Sampyo Industries 삼표산업, a cement maker. One was found dead; the other two remain missing.

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