Clarification wanted on South Korea’s new industrial accident law

Foreign companies are calling on the government to provide "clarity" and "predictability" on the tougher law relating to serious industrial accidents.
By: | January 18, 2022

This comes as the new law is set to take effect later this month, but many of the key terms remain ambiguous and subject to interpretation. Under the new law, CEOs can be held criminally liable for serious industrial accidents if their companies did not have the required safety measures in place.

The Serious Accident Punishment Act that takes effect on January 27 states that the owner or chief manager of a business can face a minimum one-year prison term or a maximum fine of 1 billion won (US$839.5 million) if an industrial accident involving a death occurs when a workplace does not take the required safety measures.

The safety measures cited include: setting up a team dedicated to workplace safety, identifying safety risks and addressing them, setting aside and executing a budget for workplace safety and having a manual to follow if a serious accident occurs.

However, detailed clauses have yet to be drawn up, which leaves room for various interpretations.

A recent survey of 121 foreign firms in South Korea by the Korea Enterprises Federation (KEF) showed that 58.7% of respondents mentioned the unclear definitions of “chief manager” and “required measures” as their greatest concerns before the law takes effect.

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Concurring, Jeffrey Jones, a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce (AMCHAM), said, “We are concerned about CEOs becoming criminally liable, irrespective of safety precautions in the case in which a serious accident occurs.” AMCHAM is the largest foreign chamber in the country with 800 member companies, according to The Korea Times.