Construction Accident Prevention, Construction Safety Special Act is the answer

▲ Hong-seop Ahn, President, Korea Construction Safety Association (Korea Association of Health and Safety Organizations)

It was very encouraging that the Moon Jae-in government has set ‘protecting the lives of the people’ as one of the three national goals and has put forth every effort to reduce the number of accidental deaths in industrial sites in half by 2022. However, the construction safety special bill was rejected by the Korea Federation of Construction Organizations despite the second proposal. First, the enactment was canceled due to opposition from the relevant ministries and this time from the construction industry who wanted to protect it. This bill was proposed with the determination to “break the vicious cycle of construction sites where the death of workers is commonplace” after a fire accident at the new construction site of the Icheon Logistics Center on April 29, 2020, which killed 38 construction workers and undermined national dignity. We still haven’t properly learned the lessons from accidents, and major disasters are still easily forgotten.

In the four years from 2016 to 2020, before the inauguration of this government, the number of fatal accidents in the construction industry decreased by 8.2% from 499 to 458 in quantitative terms. increased. Even though the country has made every effort to prevent construction accidents, the decrease in the number of fatal accidents in the construction industry is insignificant.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act was born for manufacturing plants and did not effectively prevent construction accidents. The Act on Punishment of Serious Accidents, etc. (Severe Accident Punishment Act) is also imminent, but this Act does not apply to small and medium-sized construction projects where most of the fatalities occur. Furthermore, disasters such as the collapse of a redevelopment site in Hak-dong, Gwangju in June last year, in which nine innocent citizens were killed, are also in the blind spot of this law. What is even more unfortunate is that even in the explanatory material of the Serious Accident Punishment Act, the contract of construction work is still equated with that of general industry, diluting the responsibility of the orderer, who is the highest decision maker, risk producer, and main body attributing final profits.

The Construction Safety Special Act has three essential functions to overcome the limitations of the existing system. First, the safety function as a brake was restored from the accelerator that promotes production by making the safety-related provisions added to the existing Construction Technology Promotion Act independent as a separate law according to the accident prevention principle. Second, it clarified the responsibilities of construction project participants, including the client, who did not meet the Occupational Safety and Health Act and existing construction-related laws. Third, through the safety staff, a device was prepared to make the owner aware of his/her own safety responsibilities, so that the owner-led safety management was possible. This made it possible to prevent actual construction accidents by filling in the blind spot between the Severe Accident Punishment Act and the Manufacturing Plant-based Occupational Safety and Health Act, which is difficult to regulate multiple stakeholders. Ultimately, it will also alleviate the concentration of penalties under the Serious Accident Punishment Act that construction companies must bear.

It would be another painful mistake to miss the key to preventing construction accidents, a factor in social unrest at the national level. It is necessary to take a deeper look into the limitations of the existing system and the innovative functions embedded in the Special Act on Construction Safety. In terms of penalties, the penalties of the Construction Safety Special Act are the same as those of the existing Construction Technology Promotion Act, and are not aimed at the person in charge of management. Of course, there are still issues to be improved in accordance with the accident prevention principle in the proposed bill, but these are trivial compared to the benefits resulting from the enactment.

Everyone works to be happy. The purpose of construction is the happiness of construction workers and their families living today before the welfare of facility users. The protection of human life is the basic responsibility of everyone, which cannot be compromised with anything else before the existence of a related system. For the pursuit of management convenience, we need to be wary of the scavenger hunt delaying the enactment of the Construction Safety Special Act, which seeks to set up the construction industry by sacrificing human life as collateral. If the fundamentals of safety are not established with the excuse of management inconvenience, the construction industry will not only be able to escape the stigma of a ‘murder industry’ but will also be unsustainable. In order to effectively prevent construction accidents, it is necessary to face the limitations of existing construction safety systems and policies and to innovate the construction safety management system through the Special Act on Construction Safety.

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