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Regional

Published: Sunday May 25, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday May 25, 2014 MYT 8:08:02 AM

24 hours of risk in Korean life

Trying not to be late for work, Kim Jung-soo, an office worker and father of a three-year-old girl, hurriedly bundles up his daughter and places her in the back seat of his car.

He fastens her seat belt, which is too big for her, without putting her in a car seat – his mother told him not to bother because kids outgrow the seats too fast.

After a 10-minute drive, he drops off his daughter at a day-care centre and speeds through a school zone with a 30kph speed limit. The green light means go; the yellow means go faster!

Stressed out about an upcoming presentation at work, he chain smokes and proceeds to throw the still-lit butts out of his car window, even though he knows it could land him a fine of up to 50,000 won (RM157).

He parks his car, rushes into his office building and squeezes himself into a packed elevator to save time without thinking what would happen if the elevator malfunctions due to overloading.

On his lunch break, Kim ignores the stop signal on a pedestrian crossing to get to a restaurant, walking across the road in a gap between the traffic while wearing earphones and sending a text message to his friend. Little to his knowledge, jaywalking is the leading cause of traffic deaths in South Korea, and Korea repeatedly has the highest pedestrian fatality rate among the 34 OECD member nations.

The disregard for safety continues at home.

The gas valve is not shut properly. He doesn’t have a fire extinguisher at home and doesn’t know how he would get out if a fire should occur. And the hallway of his apartment building – including the fire stairs – is cluttered with knickknacks and dilapidated furniture.

Not all South Koreans live like Kim – most parents use car seats these days, and people now know they can break through the veranda wall to escape to the next apartment in case of a fire – but many would agree that Kim’s life is pretty much the norm.

In the wake of the Sewol Ferry disaster, which was among a long string of deadly accidents that occurred here in South Korea over the past several decades due to ignorance about safety precautions, public concern is rising, but not high enough to help break the bad habits.

A fire evacuation drill held in Gangnam district in southern Seoul last week exemplifies how people can easily forget the fact that a catastrophe can happen anywhere to anyone.

Only one in five employees of companies in the Coex Trade To­­wer participated in the drill to eva­­­­­cuate from the 54-storey building.

According to a theory that become known as Heinrich’s Law, named after the man who created it, accidents don‘t just happen out of the blue. Henrich discovered that behind every major accident, there are on average 29 accidents that caused minor, related injuries and about 300 others that may have not led to injuries, but somehow foreshadowed the final disaster.

The lesson from Heinrich’s Law is that people can prevent catastrophes by paying more attention to minor accidents.

“The biggest problem is society’s lack of safety consciousness, not the absence of regulations,” said Shim Joon-sub, professor of Public Service at Chung-Ang University. - THE KOREA HERALD

Tags / Keywords: Regional, Korea; society; security

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