Recently, a worker at an SPC company was caught in a machine and died at a bakery factory in Pyeongtaek. As these things do not just happen once or twice, the punishment law that imposes criminal responsibility on the person in charge of the management in the event of a safety accident has come to the surface. ST found what this punishment law is, and how it works .............Ed
Dangerous work environments are not rare in Korea. More than 100,000 cases occurred in 2020 alone. Such disasterous incidents are
why SAPA(Serious Accidents Punishment Act), a law that imposes criminal penalties on management in the event of a serious workplace
accident has been enacted. SAPA is a bill that requires business owners or management leaders who neglect safety measures to be
punished by imprisonment for more than one year in the event of a serious accident.
SAPA is clearly a law that has the potential to protect workers. However, after a year this law coming into effect, there have been voices of concern addressing the bill’s practical impact. First, there have been no cases in which punishment has been confirmed since the enforcement of the SAPA because the investigation takes more than several months due to the ambiguous and complex criteria for identifying the gravity of the accident. For example, in Article 2, No. 9 of the Act, it is unclear who has the authority and responsibility to represent and oversee the project, and who is supposed to supervise safety affairs. Furthermore, some argue that SAPA can be considered unconstitutional.
However, since workers lack the power to demand adequate and safer working conditions, they will be left without recourse if SAPA were to be neutralized. This law has the potential to force business owners to pay attention to unfair and dangerous working conditions. Recently, a worker who operated a machine that did not meet safety standards was caught in the machine and was killed in a bread factory. This has bolstered public support for the SAPA and its further strengthening. The idea of stronger criminal penalties to neglectful managers is a good thing, but simply increasing the penalty will not solve the core issues with the law.
In order to solve these problems, the first thing is to remove as much ambiguity as possible from the law. Above all, obligations should be established so that preventive measures can be effectively enforced, rather than simply being able to punish after the fact. For the law to have proper impact, it will be necessary to discuss preventative measures rather than post-incident measures.
Lee You-bin (ST Reporter)