Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Surveillance camera footage of the factory fire that killed more than 20 people sparks public outrage


The conversation about work safety has begun.

On June 24, a massive fire broke out at a battery factory in Hwaseong, South Korea. Despite a level 2 response, with more than 145 firefighters and 50 fire engines dispatched to battle the blaze, more than 20 bodies were recovered from the scene, including the 23 workers who had been reported missing earlier.

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| Yonhap

The tragic incident has left the entire country shaken after the initial reports. But recent CCTV footage of the fire has sparked deep discussions about worker safety at the factory and whether the tragedy could have been avoided.

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| Yonhap

Security footage from the factory showed the fire started with a small explosion from a pile of battery packs stacked at knee height. There was no clear indication whether any external factor caused the explosion. However, one employee noticed the smoke and quickly retreated. Two male employees began removing the smoking pile of batteries, presumably to prevent the fire from spreading to other batteries. However, the employees on the floor were generally unaware of the seriousness of the situation when they resumed work.

A few seconds after the smoke started, a large flame ignited from the battery stack, causing a secondary explosion. The two employees who were moving the package were startled and walked away. Five seconds later, a new explosion occurred, prompting another employee to grab a fire extinguisher. Unfortunately, this powder extinguisher seemed unsuitable for lithium flames, as it did nothing to suppress the flames.

As the employee continued to use the fire extinguisher, another explosion occurred, at which point workers began evacuating. Soon after, 5-6 successive explosions occurred with bright flashes as the screen filled with thick smoke. About 4 hours and 40 minutes later, 21 employees working on that floor were found dead in the corner room opposite the initial ignition point.

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This footage has raised questions among netizens about whether workers have received adequate training to deal with such emergencies. Many felt that if they had known the proper safety measures to take, this death toll could have been avoided altogether.

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| theqoo
  • “The company should have provided regular training for such situations.”
  • “I saw on the news yesterday that many of the workers were temporary employees who had not worked there for a long time and were not familiar with the layout of the building, which contributed to the tragedy. The exit was located near the fire, and there was no exit on the opposite side, so they were trapped and unable to escape.”
  • “Oh no, they didn’t have enough safety training…”
  • “This is so annoying…”
  • “Sigh… If only they had been evacuated immediately.”

The incident has put Aricell under scrutiny, as most of its workforce consists of foreign workers holding F-4 overseas Korean visas and H-2 work and visit visas, despite not meeting the criteria for hiring these workers. Aricell CEO Park Soon-kwan has denied the accusations of illegally hiring foreign workers, noting that most of them were hired through the human resources agency as subcontracted day laborers. He also claimed that the agency is the one providing instructions to the workers, in an attempt to evade the responsibility of providing workers with job safety training.

The proportion of foreign workers in Arisel indicates that it is a company that relies heavily on foreign workers. There are strong suspicions that this is a case of illegal recruitment of foreign workers for the purpose of obtaining cheap labor without taking proper safety measures.

—Professor Kim Sung-hee, Graduate School of Labor Studies, Korea University

source: Thiko And Hankyoreh

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