Archive for February, 2013

<On Feb. 27, 2013, the South Korean police released CCTV footage of hydrofluoric acid gas leaks at Samsung.  The leaks, caused on Jan. 27-28 by gaskets that were in use beyond replacement time, killed one worker and injured four. >

The chronic safety negligence that led to chemical leaks, and ensuing cover-ups of the incidents that resulted in one death and four injuries, were not sufficiently serious for the South Korean government to pursue criminal charges against top executives at Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd.

On Feb. 27, the South Korean police said it would criminally charge seven individuals for negligence in the hydrofluoric acid leaks of Jan. 28-29 at a Samsung chip plant in Hwaseong, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul.

Among the seven individuals, a 34 years old contract worker identified by his last name of Park, died of exposure to the leaks. The other six include three employees of STI, Samsung’s contractor, and three mid-level managers of Samsung.

The negligence charges were indeed a slap on the wrist, given that the world’s largest semiconductor maker has been not only routinely violating safety regulations but also been aggressively covering up its run-ins with the law.

Following are new findings collected from the police’s announcement and media reports:

New Fact 1. Samsung Used Key Components Past Expiration Dates

The police pointed to the neglected seals and old gaskets of the gas tank as reasons for the first leak on Jan. 28. The gaskets had been used and reused past their scheduled replacement dates.

The second leak was preventable, according to the police, had new seals between the tank and the pipe been completed by the workers.

A simulation test by the police put the amount of leakages at a maximum of seven liters per hour during the first leak on Jan. 28. The government could not estimate the volume of the second leak for lack of data; a gauge collecting data of gas flows had been out of order.

Poorly maintained equipment and rushed repairs are commonplace at Samsung. Many occupational disease victims profiled by SHARPS said machines in a state of disrepair posed constant hazards.

New Fact 2. Samsung Released Fatal Gas Out Of Its Factory

The police confirmed earlier unattributed press reports that on Jan. 28, around 6:00am, Samsung and STI workers used huge ventilation fans to remove hydrofluoric acid leaks from the central chemical supply system, or the CCSS, where leaks took place.

Samsung has to date denied the fatal gas had filtrated through the CCSS.  A group of environmental volunteers found residue of hydrofluoric acid in the soil around the Hwaseong plant, which is ringed by housing compounds.

New Fact 3. Samsung Effectively Turned Off Sensor Alarm

According to the police, though the sensor in the CCSS was fully functional during the leaks, the volume of its alarm was reduced to inaudible levels. Samsung allowed STI employees to replace the corroded gaskets on Jan. 27 at 2:11pm, about four hours after the contract workers requested a replacement from a Samsung supervisor.

It wasn’t until 6:08pm, about 16 hours after the leak, when a Samsung security officer showed up at the CCSS.

On March 15, a multi-agency taskforce will announce its findings.

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About 26 hours after the first leak on Jan. 27, South Korean police began to investigate the site of Samsung’s Hwaseong plan where yet-undetermined amounts of hydrofluoric acid gas were released.

Neighboring elementary schools have postponed new semesters in fear of fallout from recent chemical leaks at a nearby Samsung plant.  The surrounding community is unsettled with anger and frustration.  However, nine days after leaks of hydrofluoric acid gas that killed one worker and injured four at its plant south of Seoul, Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. continues to cover up the fatal incidents with more lies.  The following is a quick rundown of new facts that the world’s largest chipmaker had been covering up since this blog’s last post:

Fact 1

Samsung said of the Jan. 27-28 leaks as the first-of-its-kind incident.  However, it was not the first time that hydrofluoric acid gas, a virulent and deadly impurity remover for semiconductor wafers, has leaked at the Hwaseong plant.  The conservative Chosun Il bo quoted a study conducted in 2011 by Dr. Suh Byung-seong, of Sungkyunkwan University and Kangbuk Samsung Hospital, and reported that a 37-year-old male worker was treated in Sept. 2010 after exposures to the acid gas. 

Prof. Suh’s study did not name Samsung’s Hwaseong plant as the site of the leak and instead described it as a semiconductor plant with 20,000 employees.  However, Samsung confirmed the incident, saying “a contract worker was exposed to the leak [three years ago].”  This is particularly outrageous because while Samsung concealed the leak from authorities in breach of law, a professor who teaches at a university and a hospital that Samsung owns, could still conduct a study of the victim. 

Fact 2

Initial press reports put the volume of the January 28-29 leaks at ten liters.  Later, Samsung said it was about two or three liters.  However, an autopsy of the 34-year-old victim known by his last name Hwang turned up a blister larger than one centimeter in the respiratory path, suggesting that the amounts of the leaks exceeded the capacity of his gasmask’s filter.   The exact volume of the leaks has yet to be determined.

Fact 3

Samsung ordered the four workers who were dispatched to the leak from contractor STI Service to patch up the leaks with absorption pads and plastic bags although the workers reported that the melted gasket needed immediate replacement, according to an opposition lawmaker who interviewed one of the four workers. 

It was about 11:30pm, about nine hours after the first leak, when Samsung management agreed to the replacement. Hwang, who ultimately died due to his exposure to the leak, had to work on the leak during his first hours on the site without wearing a protective suit because Samsung had urged him to stop the leak immediately so production would not be interrupted. 

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