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Seoul Metro apologizes, vows to strengthen safety

Seoul Subway operator Seoul Metro apologized for the fatal accident on Saturday admitting that it was due to lax safety standards and flawed management system, vowing to implement preventive measures.

“It was Seoul Metro’s fault for the loss of 19-year-old employee Kim, who was just like one of our sons and brothers,” said Jeong Su-young, head of Seoul Metro’s Infrastructure Management department during a press conference Wednesday at subway line No. 2 Guui Station. 

Kim worked for a company that Seoul Metro had subcontracted for screen door maintenance. He was killed after being hit by an incoming subway while he was repairing a screen door separating the platform from the rail tracks. He was working on the malfunctioned screen door by himself, while the regulation calls for at least two in a team for repair work. There is also no system to notify approaching train operators.

Seoul Metro vowed to implement measures to prevent such accidents by more strongly obligating workers to work in pairs and operate strengthened supervising system through surveillance cameras while workers are on the track.

It also vowed to change its screen door maintenance company from the current subcontractor to a city-run subsidiary company, in order to increase workforce efficiency. More safety requirements will be added, the operator said.

But the press conference was soon interrupted by passersby who approached and yelled at Seoul Metro officials saying, “Would you still be able to stand up and say sorry if the victim was your son?” 

Post-it messages left at Guui Station. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Post-it messages left at Guui Station. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)

The platform was filled with media and mourners who came to pay tribute to Kim with flowers, post-it messages and food items. Online and offline tributes have spread upon release of a picture showing the Kim’s possessions, which had included a cup of instant noodle that he is presumed to have carried in his bag for a quick and cheap meal. 

His death sparked heated debate over the poor working conditions of contract workers and the authorities’ negligence although this is the third fatal accident involving repair workers for the subway screen doors since 2013.

Foods and messages are put by citizens at Guui Station on Wednesday. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Foods and messages are put by citizens at Guui Station on Wednesday. (Kim Da-sol/The Korea Herald)
Some notes read: “We are sorry for your death,” “Human lives should come first before money,” and “No one will any longer enter death through that screen door thanks to your sacrifice.”

According to the Seoul Metro’s labor union, six workers worked as a team and were assigned with repairing screen doors at 49 subway stations. 

Seoul Metropolitan Government said Wednesday in a statement that it will form a committee comprised of city officials, Seoul Metro officials and experts to speed up the follow-up measures. They said they will continuously check whether safety measures are well-implemented.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)
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