Op-ed: Safety vs. Profit – What is truly more important to Korea?

An Op-ed written by HiExpat blogger: Andrew Fraser
December 31st, 2014

As I started taking a look back at 2014 in Korea, I initially thought it would be nice to do a piece for the end of the year that tied both good and bad events together as a replay of what happened this year. However, during my research and brainstorming sessions, I realized that 3 huge events in South Korea really rocked this country and changed the way that Koreans thought about safety procedures. Instead of simply covering events on the surface, I wanted to dig deeper into these avoidable ‘accidents’ and discuss how a serious change in 2015 can really help Korea continue to grow and work toward a safer and happier future as a prosperous country.

As unfortunate as it is to say, Korea really did experience a lot of pain, heartbreak and devastation this year and it was a tough pill to swallow for most residents. Let’s take a look back on the major events that stopped and caught the attention of everyone living in this beautiful place that we call home.

The Sinking of the Sewol Ferry
세월호 침몰 사고

April 16, 2014: The entire country witnessed an unimaginable disaster. Koreans are known for their quick day-to-day pace and are rarely seen taking a rest for anyone or anything. However, shortly after the news of the Ferry sinking broke, this entire country came to a standstill. Dread hovered above the heads of the whole population, and it is likely that those who lost their children, friends and colleagues in the disaster will never stop mourning. The rest of the country finally took a breath and showed their support over a series of months following the disaster as bodies slowly started turning up through routine search and rescue missions.

A total of 304 individuals lost their lives – that is by no means a small number. As sad as it is to say, it took an event with such a rippling effect to really shock Koreans into remembering that it is important to stop, look & cherish every single person around you. It is impossible to know when or how loved ones will pass, but we should truly understand the value of enjoying every moment we have with them.


Flowers resting on the desks of students who lost their lives in the tragic accident.

Grate Collapse at Seongnam Music Festival

October 17, 2014: Another horrific disaster that claimed innocent lives shocked and left the entire country asking “why?”. At an local music festival in Seongnam, Seoul, 16 concertgoers tragically lost their lives in a 20 metre drop as an unsupervised ventilation gate outside of the safety zone collapsed beneath their feet. The reason why they were even allowed to be standing on top of the grate is unknown, but it raises a lot of questions about the safety regulations in Korea, and just how strongly they are (not) enforced. Korea can be strict about many things (such as garbage disposal and recycling), but problems with lack of safety regulations remain to run amuck. This disaster and the sinking of Sewol have really opened the eyes of many Koreans, and the country should work toward a more stable set of regulations to be more stern about safety regulations in 2015. Being more concerned with making money than the lives of innocent people will do nothing but cause economic collapse in the future.

A photo of the aftermath of the outdoor concert grate collapse in Seongnam.

A photo of the aftermath of the outdoor concert grate collapse in Seongnam.

Ladies Code’ Car Accident 

2014 was a really rough year for the K-pop industry. A lot of singers and members of various groups and units called it quits and decided to pursue more prosperous careers, as K-pop contracts have recently been outed and labelled as ‘slave contracts’ that force members to live on a very small allowance, while never letting them get their hands on any of the earnings that they worked hard to bring in.

On top of that contract foolishness, yet another K-pop group was in a terrible car accident (this happens quite often in South Korea). Only this time, instead of members being hospitalized and making it out with a couple of scrapes and bruises, two members (Go EunBi & Kwon RiSae) of a new 4-member group ‘Ladies’ Code’ died as a result of a tragic crash while traveling at high speeds in rough, wet conditions to rush to an appearance. One member died instantly, and the other died after being unconscious following a serious brain surgery.

Conclusion of tragic events

So what can we do to avoid these kinds of situations in the future? How can we ensure that innocent lives are not lost as a result of simple, foolish mistakes? All 3 of these events listed above really are a cry for help. This country and its people are suffering as a result of poor safety laws, lack of regulation about the way things are to be done and little repercussion for not following the rules.  These safety protocols need to be taken more seriously, as a lot of lives were lost as a result of ignorance and lack of respect for the value and precious nature of human life.

In order to ensure that Korea does not experience similar happenings in 2015, we must all question the safety laws and speak up about this growing issue. In order for change to happen, the people have to come together as a collective to question procedures. We have to speak up and fight for change.

The unfortunate truth is that, in all 3 cases, its seems that money was the most important factor:

First – In the Sewol Ferry instance, the team behind the renovation of the ferry simply wanted to ensure they maximized profit by adding as much additional space for passengers as was humanly possible – at risk of the ship not meeting safety standards.

Second: With regards to the crate collapse at the outdoor concert in Seongnam, there was no security team dispatched to stop fans from crowding on top of the grate for a better view of the stage. As a result of a desire to save money by selling more tickets and not hiring adequate security, 16 people died. This should NEVER have happened, and it could have easily been avoided.

Third: Car accidents are not rare in any country, sadly. A lot of people perish in car accidents around the world, but the number of singers and celebrities injured and killed in automobile accidents is alarming in South Korea. This was one of the worst accidents in the last decade or so, and it really brings light to the intense, somewhat abusive treatment of talent in Korea. They are rushed back and forth from performance to performance, regardless of weather conditions and their mental health is rarely taken into consideration. It seems like it’s all about money, and less about there physical and mental well-being.

All in all, there’s one thing I want to say to the government, those in charge of safety regulations in this country and everyone reading this article – we really need to make a change before it’s too late. It’s time to take note of what is happening, and more strict rules MUST be put in place. If these events aren’t enough evidence that change needs to happen, I don’t know how many more innocent lives need to be lost before everyone will start to come around and realize that something is REALLY wrong. If you agree, let me know in the comments below. I may not be a native Korean, but I have witnessed a lot of tragic disasters in my time here (and observing news while living back in Canada) and I know it’s about time for a change.

Let’s make it happen.

Now, take a moment to remember those whose lives were lost this year. May all of the victims of these devastating accidents rest in peace, and it is important for us to reflect on 2014 with a heavy heart and a sense of responsibility to ensure these kinds of accidents do not occur moving forward into 2015.

May Ladies' Code members 'Go EunBi' & 'Kwon Rise' rest in peace. Their unexpected passing comes as a reminder that life is too short and safety should be considered above all else.

Ladies’ Code members ‘Go EunBi’ & ‘Kwon Rise’. Their unexpected passing comes as a reminder that life is too short and safety should be considered above all else.

Culture, Current Topics

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