The Special Act on Harbor Safety (the "SAHS") was promulgated into law on August 3, 2021 and will take effect from August 4, 2022.
Recently, there have been a series of safety incidents at ports involving the death of some harbor workers. In this regard, on July 5, 2021, the two authorities in charge, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the Ministry of Employment and Labor, announced a “Special Plan for Workplace Safety at Harbors” that aims to prevent safety incidents involving harbor workers, and conducted special inspections on five major ports with harbor experts. The inspections reportedly found issues including: (i) failure of business owners to carry out safety and health-related duties; (ii) failure of contractors to perform their roles (e.g., en-route checks); (iii) failure of on-site supervisors to carry out safety and health-related duties.
These findings have brought to light the need for a comprehensive safety management system, a team dedicated to harbor safety, and a reinforced standard for workplace safety at harbors, among others. In this regard, South Korean lawmakers have passed a special law dedicated to harbor safety entitled the SAHS defining harbor safety management-related duties and responsibilities of harbor transport stakeholders (harbor transport business operators and related business operators) as well as penalties for violations, with the primary goal of creating safe work environments at ports. The SAHS includes strengthened requirements relating to safety equipment and training to be provided for harbor workers, safety management inspections on sites, safety incident investigations, and statistics management, as well as penalties against business operators.
The management authority will be able to organize and operate a consultative body on harbor safety with harbor transport stakeholders, harbor workers’ associations, and others prescribed by a Presidential Decree to discuss necessary issues such as how to prevent safety incidents at harbors under its jurisdiction (Article 7).
Harbor transport stakeholders will be required to train harbor workers on their jobs, safety requirements, and risk factors at harbors, among others (Article 8).
Among harbor transport stakeholders, those who have registered for harbor loading and unloading business will be required to formulate an internal safety management plan on ways to prevent safety incidents involving harbor workers (e.g., controlling access to harbors, ensuring the safety of facilities, and providing safety equipment) as prescribed by a Presidential Decree, and obtain approval from the management authority (Article 9 (1)).
The management authority will be required to appoint a harbor safety inspector, who will be responsible for approving and ensuring compliance with internal safety management plans and imposing remedial orders, as well as harbor safety inspection personnel to assist the harbor safety inspector with his/her duties (Article 9 (5) and (6)).
The management authority will be required to disclose the results of safety training and the approval of, compliance with, and confirmation of internal safety management plans, as well as the results of remedial measures taken. Also, the management authority will be able to seek cooperation from the head of the relevant administrative agency with submission of information and other matters required to ensure compliance with internal safety management plans. (Articles 10 and 11)
Measures and Countermeasures
Compliance with these new statutory requirements on safety plans, safety training, safety consultative body, and on-site inspections, among others, can be tricky due to the complicated nature of work instructions and contracts among harbor transport stakeholders (i.e., harbor transport business operators and related business operators) and the harbor worker union. This is why it is critical to conduct a comprehensive review of the existing contract structure, contractual liability, and work instruction system ahead of time to determine whether the statutory requirements can be met and identify areas in need of improvement or augmentation in order to meet such requirements.
The SAHS will draw attention from industry stakeholders on the issues that are in line with the Proposed Serious Accidents Punishment Act (“SAPA”) and Enforcement Decree to SAPA, which provide for duties relating to the management and maintenance of safety and health across all industries. For industry stakeholders, it would be crucial to evaluate and assess their existing health/safety systems and develop plans that satisfy both requirements relating to improving existing systems and creating new work environments as well as statutory requirements on safety and health.
Finally, it is crucial to conduct a preliminary review in relation to safety management requirements under SAPA and the SAHS to examine the current state of business and prepare measures and countermeasures that can be readily implemented on-site.