The Korea Herald


Another Samsung semiconductor worker dies of leukemia

By Korea Herald

Published : Aug. 5, 2014 - 20:36

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Another worker from a Samsung Electronics Co. chipmaking facility died earlier this month from leukemia after working at the company for 27 years, a labor advocacy group said Tuesday, just days after compensation talks between the two sides for similar victims ended without much progress.

The Protector of Health and Human Rights of Semiconductor Workers (SHARP) said Lee Beom-woo, 47, died a month after being hospitalized with leukemia. He worked for 23 years at Samsung’s facility in Onyang, South Chungcheong Province, about 120 kilometers south of Seoul.

SHARP is an advocacy group representing the victims who fell ill or died while working at Samsung’s chip plants. It is the negotiating counterpart to Samsung Electronics on the long-standing issue of compensating workers suffering from cancer.

Victims and their families say that the illnesses and deaths were caused by the workers’ exposure to toxic substances at the semiconductor factories. The issue came to the fore after Hwang Yu-mi, a former employee at Samsung’s chipmaking facility in Giheung, just south of Seoul, died from leukemia in 2007.

“Samsung’s semiconductor production line in Onyang is a place where hazardous factors linked to leukemia, such as epoxy resin and radiation machineries, exist,” SHARP said in its release. It cited a 2012 study by the Occupational Safety and Health Research Institute as supporting its claim.

“Our research shows there were 40 cases of environment-related diseases at Samsung’s Onyang facility, including 12 workers suffering from lymphatic system-related illnesses,” the organization said, adding that the number jumps to 150 cases when taking Samsung’s other facilities into account.

“There can be no more deaths. Samsung should apologize a hundred times for the death of the late Lee, and draw up strict measures to prevent similar cases,” SHARP added.

“We will pray for bliss of the dead and express our condolences,” Samsung said in its official statement. “Losing a co-worker who shared the joys and sorrows is a loss for the company as well.”

The company did not say anything further, including its stance or opinions on future negotiations with SHARP.

In May, Samsung Electronics officially apologized for the first time for the deaths and suffering of its semiconductor workers and promised compensation.

Since then, the two parties have held negotiations, but there has been no meaningful progress as of their last meeting on July 30. SHARP is demanding, among other things, that Samsung allow a third-party inspection of its facilities, which the company has yet to agree to.

Meanwhile, Samsung said on Tuesday that it plans to invest some 1.8 trillion won ($1.74 billion) this year to boost safety at its facilities across the country, following a series of accidents that led to deaths and injuries.

This year’s investment will mark a 50 percent rise from the 1.2 trillion won in 2013, the company said, adding it has already injected 1 trillion won through July, and the remaining budget will also be invested as scheduled.

“Most of the budget will be used to renovate outdated facilities,” an official from the group said. “While we are facing challenges in business management, our affiliates did not reduce the amount as the investment for the environment safety cannot be delayed under any circumstances.”

Samsung’s latest move came as the No. 1 conglomerate said earlier it would invest around 3 trillion won over the 2013-2014 period to beef up the working environment of its facilities, apparently as its affiliates suffered a handful of accidents last year.

In January 2013, a poisonous hydrofluoric acid gas leaked at the main plant of the world’s largest memory chipmaker Samsung Electronics, killing one worker and injuring four others.

Several months later in July 2013, three workers were killed and 12 others injured when a water tank burst during a stress test at a polysilicon plant construction site inside Samsung Fine Chemicals.

A gas leakage at a Samsung facility in southern Seoul sparked by a malfunction of the fire extinguishing system also left one worker dead earlier this year in March, raising concerns among South Koreans that the country’s leading tech giant is not making sufficient efforts to prevent accidents.

After the continued casualties from its facilities, the group’s de-facto chairman Lee Kun-hee urged management to come up with preventive measures before being hospitalized in May, industry sources said.

(From news reports)