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1 in 5 firefighters suffer from depression in Korea

More than 90 percent of South Korean firefighters feel unsafe at work due to insufficient safety measures, while 20 percent of them suffer from either depression or an anxiety disorder, a study by Korea University showed Thursday.

The study, written by professor Kim Seung-sub from the school of health policy and management at the university, surveyed 8,256 firefighters stationed nationwide from March to September. The survey showed that 19.4 percent of the surveyed firemen, all of whom were government employees, said they were either depressed or had an anxiety disorder, while feeling unprotected from possible injuries at work.

Aside from depression and anxiety disorders, firefighters were dealing with a number of other health issues. A total of 43.2 percent of them said they had sleep disorders including insomnia, while 24.8 percent said they had hearing problems. Also, 57.5 percent said they felt chronically tired, while 54.2 percent said they had either headaches or eye fatigue. 
Firefighters in South Korea. Yonhap.
Firefighters in South Korea. Yonhap.

A total of 1,348 firemen among the surveyed said they had experienced a work-related injury that required medical attention and at least a day of rest, but only 225 of them filed a request to take the sick leave. Among the 225, only 173 were granted the break from work to be treated for their condition.

The study also found that more than 90 percent of the surveyed firemen felt unsafe at work. Among the 93 percent who felt unsafe, 77 percent of them said their stations were understaffed, while 73.1 percent said they use outdated equipment and safety gear. Also, 50.7 percent of them said they were not informed enough about potentially dangerous substances at work.

In particular, 33.2 percent of all surveyed firefighters said they had spent private funds to purchase safety gear needed for work, such as firefighter shields, flashlights and boots.

The study found that 97.6 percent of the surveyed firefighters felt that a representative body is needed to better protect their rights. Also, 95 percent of all participating firemen said they’d join if such a group were established.

The study was conducted for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, which plans to come up with safety measures and policies specifically for firefighters in the country, including those protecting their labor rights and access to health care.

Professor Kim, who organized the research, said the government should allow firefighters to establish a representative group. “Every firefighter should be able to join the group if that is what he wants,” he said.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)

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