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Posts Tagged ‘Fatality’

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SHARPS and labor activists in June picked Amotech, a Samsung supplier, where three workers died of overwork during the first three months of this year.

Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd is dumping high-risk jobs into outsourcers, a SHARPS activist said at a conference on August 7.  The world’s largest technology company’s lack of follow-through is helping ensure long working hours, high employee turnover, and negligence in safety measures, making many Samsung contractor facilities dangerous places to work.

“QTS, a Samsung contractor, does not allow workers to open windows at their workplaces to protect the trade secret of Samsung, even though their shops are poorly ventilated,” Kong Jeong-ok, a physician with SHARPS said at the conference on the conditions of workers at Samsung’s contractors hosted by SHARPS in Seoul.

At QTS in the city of Yongin, South Korea, employees, most of them women in their mid-40s and older, put memory chips with solder bumps into high-temperature reflow furnaces  They put the refurbished chips into the cleaning tank to remove impurities and into the chemical ovens to dry them.

The women have to do these high-risk, chemically drenched jobs with bare hands.

The only protective gear provided by the company was disposable masks and plastic gloves.  The gloves are useless because they are too big to use to handle tiny memory chips.  Management tells the employers to wear gas masks when they expect outside inspections.

Officially, QTS workers work from 9am till 6pm.  However, they often work overtime until 9am next day, meaning that they worked a full twenty-four hour shift.

QTS, with about 20-25 on its full-time payroll, seasonally hires up to 70 or more.  A full-timer earns KRW 900,000 (US$810) in base salary a month, plus KRW 800,000 (US$720)-KRW 1 million (US$900) in overtime, compared with South Korea’s per-capita GDP of US$31,700 for 2012.

Low pay and poor working conditions have increased employee turnover.  Only about ten employees have worked at QTS for a multiple number of years.  Among them, four were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010-12. In 2010, one woman employee in her mid-40s, died of lung cancer.

Amotech, another Samsung contractor posted a 93 percent increase in sales in 2012,” said Dr. Kong.  However, the remarkable expansion was the result of Amotech employees’ sacrifices, she added.

Over the course of three months of January to March 2013, three employees died of acute conditions brought on by overwork at the Inchoen, South Korea ceramic chipmaker that makes 45.6 percent of its sales to Samsung, Apple Inc, HTC Corporation, and Lenovo.

In January, an electroplater in his fifties died of acute cerebral infarction.  He passed out after having worked 12 hours a day for days. (His identity is withheld at his family’s request.).

In March, Yim Seung-hyun, 31 years old, died of cerebral hemorrhage after having worked 12 hours a day for 19 months.  Since December 2012, he took only four days off and worked on all weekends.

In the same month, a mid-ranking technician, Kwon Tae-young died. Kwon often worked 15 to 26 hours straight to reduce the defect rates of common mode filters, Amotech’s strategic item, used to reduce the noise levels of Smartphones.

Poor base pay means many Amotech employees are forced to work overtime only to stay afloat.  For January 2013, Yim got only one day off on New Year’s Day.  He worked an average of 12.5 hours a day to take home KRW 1.08 million (US$972) in base salary and KRW1.89 million (US$1,700) in overtime.

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SHARPS on August 7 hosted a conference on working conditions at Samsung contractor facilities.

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On July 26, a huge water tank collapsed at the Samsung Fine Chemicals plant, leaving three workers dead and 12 injured. Source: SBS News

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.

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On July 30, SHARPS and tens of labor and community advocates mounted pickets in protest of the fatal water tank failure at Samsung Fine Chemicals. Source: SHARPS

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