Activists and other people gathered in front of Samsung Town in Seocho District
The lung cancer deaths of two former Samsung Electronics semiconductor factory workers were recently recognized as industrial accidents by the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service (COMWEL).
They are the first cases of lung cancer recognized as industrial accidents among Samsung Electronics semiconductor workers. With this ruling, a total of eight diseases among Samsung Electronics semiconductor workers have been recognized by courts and COMWEL as occupational in nature, with 14 workers affected. The ruling is expected to prove controversial, with lung cancer not included previously among diseases Samsung Electronics recognized for occupational compensation in connection with its semiconductor line and circumstantial evidence that the company attempted to obstruct COMWEL’s investigation.
The semiconductor workers’ health and human rights watchdog group Banollim issued a press released on Sept. 1 stating that COMWEL “issued final rulings on Aug. 29 and 30 recognizing the lung cancer deaths of Lee Gyeong-hui and Song Yu-gyeong as industrial accidents.”
Lee and Song worked for 16 to 17 years at a Samsung Electronics semiconductor and LCD factory, and were 38 and 43 at the time of their respective deaths from lung cancer. COMWEL’s approval of the cases’ treatment as industrial accidents comes two to three years after the family members applied for bereavement benefits.
According to COMWEL’s occupational disease rulings for Lee and Song, the service’s occupational lung ailment institute concluded that “the deceased appear to have been continuously exposed to arsenic while performing their duties, and given that their diagnoses of and deaths from lung cancer came at an early age in the absence of other risk factors, a connection with their duties is recognized.” Arsenic is a known cause of lung cancer.
An epidemiological report for Lee’s case also showed evidence of four Samsung Electronics partner companies attempting to hinder COMWEL’s investigation. At the time, the line where Lee and Song had worked had been outsourced to current Samsung partners.
Last year, the institute requested the partner companies’ cooperation in an environmental assessment to confirm the extent of arsenic exposure during the working process – but four partner companies refused to cooperate, citing “reasons of security and the prevention of the leaking of business secrets.”
Lung cancer is not included in provisions introduced last year by Samsung Electronics for compensation in cases of occupational diseases among semiconductor workers. The ruling is also expected to raise issues over the company’s compensation procedures and system.
“During this investigation, Samsung Electronics claimed not to use carcinogens, but there was no mention of arsenic in the materials it presented as evidence,” Banollim said in a statement on Sept. 1.
“Lung cancer was also not even mentioned as a disease eligible for compensation in the independent compensation procedures Samsung Electronics began in September of last year,” the group added, before going on to urge the company to “implement fair and transparent compensation according to standards agreed upon with families affected by occupational diseases.”
In response, a Samsung Electronic source said, “Lung cancer was not designated as a disease eligible for compensation in the arbitration committee recommendation announced in July 2015, and there are no plans to change the compensation targets.”
Regarding the partner businesses’ refusal to investigate, the source said, “It would be inappropriate for Samsung Electronics to comment on its partner companies’ affairs.”
By Park Tae-woo, staff reporter
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