Ethical Performance
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Ongoing building collapses raise safety issues in Korea

March 2014

Students from Busan University were killed and injured when the roof of the auditorium where they were attending a freshman orientation collapsed on 17 February 2014.

Officials said the accumulated weight of the snow on the roof appeared to have caused the structure to buckle, raising questions about its soundness. Over 500 students were in the building when it collapsed. Some reports said the building had received no safety inspections since construction.

The Ministry of Security and Public Administration said 10 people, including nine students, were killed, with two more seriously injured, while 101 others suffered cuts and bruises.

Resort owner, the Kolon business group, issued a public apology over the disaster, promising full compensation and support for the victims.

A police investigation will focus on whether snow had been cleared from the roof of the auditorium and whether the building was an authorised structure that met safety standards.

Construction codes and safety regulations are not strictly enforced in South Korea. Consequently, there are periodic disasters as well as more frequent lesser problems.

In 1970 an apartment block in Seoul collapsed, four months after construction, killing 33 people, and injuring 39. An investigation concluded the disaster was caused by corruption in construction firms and government supervision agencies.

In 1994, a section of Seoul’s Seongsu Bridge over the Han River collapsed. Forty-nine people fell into the river and 32 died. Once again, investigation found poor construction work, poor inspection by government officials, and insufficient safety checks.

The following year, Seoul’s Sampoong Department Store collapsed. This was the largest peacetime disaster in South Korean history as 502 people died and 937 were injured. The store’s owners had illegally built an additional floor on the building, saved construction costs by using sub-standard concrete, ignored cracks, and other signs of severe structural problems.

In 2010, fire gutted a new high-rise apartment block in Korea’s second city, Busan. Investigators found that the fire spread quickly due the use of highly inflammable construction materials that were not covered by safety codes at the time of building. The block also lacked fire barriers, safety systems, and alarms. Fortunately, the apartments were empty at the time of the disaster and no lives were lost.

Asia | Health and safety

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