As a follow-up measure to the collapse disaster that occurred at the Hakdong demolition site in Gwangju, amendments to the law banning the subcontracting of asbestos dismantling are being promoted. Asbestos removal companies that do not meet certain standards will have their registration canceled and will be expelled from the industry.
On the 25th, the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Ministry of Environment announced a plan to improve the system for the safe dismantling of asbestos. Asbestos is classified as a class 1 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO). It causes lung cancer after an incubation period of 20 to 40 years.
In Korea, since 2016, more than 20,000 asbestos dismantling works have been carried out every year. There were 3,717 asbestos dismantling companies that meet certain criteria and only need to register last year, a 2.4-fold increase in 10 years. The Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency conducts safety evaluations on these companies every year to manage their quality. The problem is that 31% of these companies (1,173 companies) are ineffective and are not evaluated for safety. Intermediate brokers that specialize in only accepting orders can bid for government-run construction without any special deductions without undergoing a safety evaluation.
In addition, companies with lower grades in safety evaluation participate in the government subsidy project of the Ministry of Environment or school asbestos dismantling work under a veterinary contract without any penalty. This problem was comprehensively revealed at the Gwangju Hak-dong demolition site in June. Asbestos dismantling work was subcontracted by the client for 2.2 billion won, but an intermediary broker intercepted 1.8 billion won and subcontracted it for 400 million won, resulting in a ‘predicted disaster’.
The government will significantly strengthen the registration requirements for asbestos dismantling companies by amending the Occupational Safety and Health Act. The related regulations will be changed so that only one professional manpower, such as an occupational safety and health qualified person with asbestos-related knowledge, can be registered. Safety evaluation conducted by the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency is improved so that specialized companies can receive high grades. Companies that do not meet the registration criteria are subject to cancellation of registration in order to screen out companies that do not actually dismantle asbestos and act only as an intermediary broker.
The most notable change is that the amount of asbestos dismantling work is made public to eliminate unit price slashing, and the plan is rejected if the amount is excessively reduced. Sites reported as subcontracts were inspected and supervised by the local labor office to ensure thorough management. In the mid- to long-term, the Occupational Safety and Health Act will be amended to promote the ban on subcontracting asbestos dismantling work. The Ministry of Environment plans to conduct a full-scale evaluation of supervisors in order to improve the quality of on-site management by supervisors.