The Seoul administrative court on Aug. 23 dismissed a request by a 40-year-old former Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd employee to reverse the denial of workers compensation by Korea Workers Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL).
In 1994 Yi Yoon-seong began work at the Kihung plant of Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. and in 2005, increasingly overtaken by muscle cramps and weakness, he resigned. In March 2009, Yi was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
Don’t Know Much About Chemical Risks
During 15 years of employment as periodic maintenance worker at Samsung, Yi daily used tens of different chemicals to clean and maintain muffle furnaces—a key stage in the process of chemical vapor deposition.
In late 2010, helped by SHARPS, a sick Yi listed the following chemicals in slurring words: 1) octafluoropropane; 2) ethylene Glycol; 3) helium; 4) nitrogen oxide; 5) nitrogen trifluoride; 6) ozone; 7) silicon tetrafluoride; 8) silane; 9) tetraethyl orthosilicate; 10) tungsten hexafluoride; 11) dichlorosilane; 12) trichlorosilane; 13) silicon tetrachloride; 14) diborane; 15) phosphine; 16) trimethyl phosphite; 17) hydrogen; 18) hexafluoroethane; 19) tetrafluoromethane; and 20) ammonia.
During the 15 years, Samsung had not once educated Yi on the risks of exposure to these chemicals.
In Feb. 2011, an epidemiologic probe by KCOMWEL did not turn up a clear link between Yi’s disease and Samsung’s working conditions. However, a KCOMWEL investigator said the survey was inadequate because many of the chemicals Yi used are not designated as hazardous by the government. “There is no way to establish causality [between Yi’s working conditions and disease],” the researcher said in his minority opinion, “because the chemicals [believed to be used by Yi] were not regulated by law, it would be true that poor controls would lead to large amounts of exposure [of these chemicals to Yi].”
A Victim’s Burden of Proof
The administrative court could uphold KCOMWEL’s decision because Yi could not prove causality. Evidently, South Korea’s regulatory inadequacies put the burden of proof onto poor victims like Yi, rather than on employers who should prove or disprove their links to occupational disease or the government that should ensure public safety and health.
As of this report, Yi and his family have yet to decide to appeal the ruling.