Three workers were killed and 12 injured on the late afternoon of July 26 when a huge water tank burst during a stress test at the Samsung Fine Chemicals Co., Ltd. plant in Ulsan, South Korea.
The 1,300-ton water tank erupted when it was filled with roughly 1,000 tons of water as part of the stress test, according to the independent daily Hankyoreh. The eruption brought down the 17-meter support structure that fell upon the 15 workers.
Samsung Fine Chemicals proceeded with the test, despite the cracks it had found earlier, a probe by SHARPS found. All 15 victims are contract workers in their twenties.
Disastrous Self Inspection
Many of the South Korean conglomerate Samsung Group’s 80-plus affiliates have high regulatory ratings that exempt them from regular safety inspections. The regulatory ratings system is flawed because it incentivizes the Samsung companies to cover up industrial and occupational incidents in order to remain exempt from government inspections.
This in turn has made Samsung plants vulnerable to industrial injury and fatality as seen in the following rundown for the current 2013 alone:
|Jan. 27-28||Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. failed to contact authorities for 26 hours after two separate leaks of hydrofluoric acid gas killed one contractor and injured four others at a chip plant in Hwaseong, about 70 kilometers south of Seoul, in Jan. 27-28.|
|April 14||A leak of chlorine gas injured two employees and four contract workers at the Ulsan plant of Samsung Fine Chemical.|
|May 2||Another leak of hydrofluoric acid injured three workers at the same plant where two acid leaks killed one contractor and four others in January.|
|July 24||A fire occurred at a ventilation facility in Kihung.|
|July 25||A leak of ammonia gas injured four workers at the Hwaseong plant, the site of the fatal gas leaks in January.|
Samsung’s Next Cash Cow?
The water tank failure took place at an expanded plant under construction, whereupon completion, Samsung Fine Chemicals and SunEdison (formerly MEMC) of the US will jointly produce polysilicon, a key component of solar energy cells.
In what it dubs a strategic shift, Samsung has recently been attempting to diversify away from memory chips and home electronics goods and to enter the solar energy and medical equipment markets.
Whatever strategy it adopts, Samsung has shown little willingness to improve labor safety or sustainability.