Samsung has confirmed the death of a contractor at one of its plants. Yonhap News reports the accident occurred at an R&D facility in Suwon, Korea when a fire safety system mistakenly detected a fire and released carbon dioxide, suffocating a 52-year-old man who worked for a Samsung partner. In a statement, Samsung says it "deeply regrets" what has happened, and adds that "protecting the safety and well-being of its employees, partners, and the local community" is its highest priority. It's currently investigating the cause of today's accident and will continue to cooperate with local authorities investigating the case.
Today's news follows several high-profile incidents at Samsung facilities last year. In January 2013, a leak of hydrofluoric acid gas left one worker dead and four others hospitalized, and just months later the same plant had a similar incident that injured three other workers. In July, three died and twelve were injured when a water tank burst during stress testing at a Samsung chemical plant. Put together, the worrying series of events has led Yonhap and others to speculate that "the country's leading tech giant is not making sufficient efforts to prevent accidents." Interest in Samsung's operations has risen dramatically with the company's global importance. It's already Korea's largest chaebol, and its revenues are equal to 16 percent of Korea's GDP. As it continues to throw billions of dollars at global marketing campaigns, media scrutiny of its business practices will only increase.
Construction and manufacturing are among the most accident-prone industries, and Korea has in recent years had a high occupational injury rate when compared to Europe and US. The reasons for this are unclear, but it's been suggested that longer working hours could be to blame — Korean working weeks are longer than those of most economically-developed countries. Although Korea as a whole has a higher accident rate than other countries, Samsung trends below national averages.
Samsung's accident rate is far lower than national averages
The national accident rate in Korea generally falls between 0.6 and 0.7 accidents per 100 workers per year. The latest available statistic for manufacturing accidents, from 2011, stands at 0.97. Samsung will not report 2013's statistics until November this year, but in 2012 its accident rate stood at 0.072, significantly lower than the national average. These rates do not take into account the severity of work-based accidents, but Samsung's figure still only represents a total of 65 injuries from over 90,000 employees in the country. It's true that accident rates at Samsung facilities have spiked sharply upwards in recent years, more than doubling since 2010, but accidents will have to increase eight-fold to even meet that national average. All eyes will be on the company's 2013 report to see if that's happened, but it's impossible to say that Samsung has an abnormally high accident rate right now.
Hyunhu Jang contributed to this article.