South Korea building collapse: Deadline rush, lack of supervision cited

On 9 June, nine people were killed and another eight were injured when a five-story building undergoing demolition collapsed and buried a bus carrying 17 passengers in Gwangju, South Korea. 

BWI is saddened by the tragic incident that added to the country’s bad safety record of infrastructure that has claimed the lives of many workers and passersby.

BWI supports the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions’ (KFICTU) statement on the cause of the fatal accident and its proposals to to the South Korean government to prevent a similar incident from happening in the future. 


Rushing for deadline and lack of supervision are the culprits

*Statement of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KFICTU) on the Gwangju building collapse

The 9 June disaster has claimed the lives of innocent citizens. Crusher operators immediately recalled the collapse at the Jamwon district in 2019. The similarities cannot be denied. Demolition work started from the top of the building down to the bottom. Crushers and excavators were equipped with tongs and claws to demolish walls and other structures, requiring massive working spaces. To minimise costs, demolition contractors sometimes put crushers on top of piled wastes and ruins next to the building to be demolished instead of positioning them on the roof of the structure. All of these increased the risks of the equipment collapsing together with the building being demolished.   


Workers familiar to demolition work pointed to two potential causes:


1. Illegal subcontracting. 

Subcontracting is so widespread in the country that demolition workers have to work without written contracts as contractors prefer verbal agreements to conceal subcontracting. The more subcontracting intensifies, the lower the construction budget gets. As such, amidst the insufficiency of budget and resources, a contractor at the lowest end rushes a particular work to beat a deadline and even tolerates irregularities to further reduce costs. For example, large excavators are deployed in demolition sites when what is needed and safer is a smaller one. 


2. Lack of supervision. 

      Demolition work is not necessarily dangerous. Accidents happen when worksites are negligent of health and safety protocols. During a demolition, serious attention must be given to the distribution of weights to prevent any landslide. The edges, pillars and girders are the last in the list to be removed. Unfortunately, contractors often disregard the plans and procedures, with workers powerless to change this practice. The workers said that the tragic accident could have been prevented if the basic plans and procedures were followed. 


      To prevent a similar accident from happening in the future, the Korean Construction Workers’ Unions (KFICTU) demands the following:


      1. Prohibit subcontracting and ensure appropriate construction period.

      2. Ensure thorough management and supervision in construction sites.

      3. Passage of the Special Act on Construction Safety. The bill clarifies the responsibilities and roles of owners, design firms, superintendents, general contractors, and subcontractors regarding construction safety.

      (Photos: CNN)