Collective Amnesia: Why Are We Insensitive to Safety?

기사승인 2018.06.04  12:17:58


- On the carelessness and exponential side-effects of safety insensitivity on campus


IT WAS as if the heavens were falling apart. An ominous cluster of thick rain clouds eclipsed the bright blue of the midday and covered the skies with a layer of gloomy gray. Incessant streaks of lightening and roaring thunder hurled the day. Pouring rain soon became minatory hails, drumming and bashing all over. At 12:24 p.m., a warning siren went off at the Education Sciences Hall of Yonsei University, indicating the danger of menacing lightning strikes. On the same day at 1:02 p.m., two students were trapped in the elevator on the fifth floor of the very same building. May 3, 2018, was an unusual day when the slaughter of nature raged its merciless reign on campus.

Yonsei, it is your story!
Alarms go off, but students, unfortunately, are not alarmed by them. Lee Da-eun (Jr., Dept. of Medicine) shared her recent experience with a fire drill that went off in the Chejoong Dormitory of Yonsei University. Lee confessed that when she first heard the alarm, she did not know what to do. “I was studying when the alarm went off. But to be honest I did not react immediately. I was sitting in my room trying to process what was going on for a while. I was then awakened to evacuate,” Lee explained. According to Lee, she was not the only one who was insensitive to the fire alarm. “Only a couple of people came down to the first floor and those who did looked very confused,” Lee added.
Lee’s story captures a standard attitude of the Korean society, one that is identifiable with a certain psychological barrier. The barrier refers to the failure of the sirens in creating an immediate response among the majority of the public. To what can this insensitive attitude be ascribed?
“I was not even aware that there would be a fire drill,” commented Lee. From this one can infer the structural inefficiency of the school headquarters’ management of safety drill procedures. The prior notification of regular practice drills is not properly circulated around campus, which, in turn, renders a worrisome level of insensitivity among the student body. The critical danger of this neglect derives from the fact that the central purpose of safety drills lies in the eliciting of automatic reactions to the sirens. If the students are increasingly exposed to practice drills, it will become their second nature to follow the safety procedures when a real hazard takes place. However, the continued administrative ineffectiveness and subsequent student neglect means that the practice drills would do little to fulfil their purpose of preventing unfortunate losses of lives.
In sum, not only the students but also the school is showing a troublesome level of unconcern towards safety issues. In 2016, Yonsei University’s Central Library flooded with rain due to a poor maintenance of the ceiling. The pressing scene of water pouring down and filing up to the students’ knee-level quickly became viral on social media under the title of “Yonsei-park:” a compound word that mockingly compared Yonsei University to a water park. The location of the accident was in a room with multiple computers and printers, which entailed an alarmingly high risk of electrocution. Although stamped in people’s minds as mere laughingstock, this scene was no subject of satire as the aftermath could have been deadly.  
   “Yonsei-park” was not the only occasion in which a campus building suffered a leakage. In 2016 and 2017, the dorm buildings in Yonsei International Campus (YIC) reportedly witnessed ceiling leakages.Furthermore,Lee Dong-gul (Jr., Dept. of Business Admin.) shared with The Yonsei Annals that “The ceiling of dorm rooms in Muak 6 Dormitory (Woo Jung-Won) leaks with rain, so I have to put a bucket under it on rainy days.”
All such instances can be seen as cases of safety insensitivity: had the school undergone prior checkups and repairs, these non-sensical accidents would not have happened on campus nor endangered the well-being of Yonseians.
Insensitivity to safety is ubiquitous
A number of other universities in South Korea are also affected by this general negligence of safety. The careless behaviors of students and faculty in a laboratory environment further accentuate this society-wide problem. On March 7, an explosion accident occurred in the Natural Science Building of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). One graduate student was severely injured in the laboratory due to the explosion of carbonyl dioxide powder. According to the KAIST safety management team, the injured student was not wearing any safety glasses, protective coat or gloves when conducting the experiment. This accident profoundly demonstrates how students tend to ignore the serious repercussions of their inattentiveness, which precipitates especially detrimental consequences under lab conditions.
The faculty are no exception to such problem. According to KBS News, three university students from Kangwon National University encountered an explosion accident in a laboratory in December 2015. At that time, the professor w­ho was responsible for safety management in the labs was on a business trip and left the experimental work to the hands of inexperienced students. When the students were tidying the lab, they muddled all kinds of chemical wastes into one container, thereby creating an explosion.
While it is essential for students to acknowledge the importance of safety guidelines, it is equally crucial for the professors to ensure a safe environment for the students. A sense of caution should be awakened in both parties.
Moreover, the importance of safety training is not fully acknowledged by the university headquarters, a phenomenon which is made apparent by the lack of participating schools in the Disaster Response and Safety Drill. This is a training program that has been promoted by the Minister of Interior and Safety since 2005, and it includes an overall examination of the alarm systems, preparation of laboratory accidents and appropriate evacuation methods under disasters. Even if a school does choose to execute this safety training, only a few buildings with laboratories are required to participate. According to the Act 14839, or the Laboratory Safety Regulation, that was enacted on July 26, 2017, the safety manager of the laboratories must implement safety trainings to those who use the facilities, including both students and staff. This means that the students and faculty members who do not utilize laboratory facilities may voluntarily partake in the safety trainings.
Furthermore, the practice of safety regulations in universities are largely ineffective. According to the Korea News System, universities have their own respective standards for a safety inspection under the current law. In other words, these universities independently examine their facilities based on the internal regulations they have devised. Due to such self-inspection procedures, safety examinations are not always meticulously conducted.
Seeing this inefficiency, Kim Soo-min, an assemblywoman of the Bareunmirae Party, proposed a bill on April 12 that enforces safety inspections on university experimental facilities and equipment. Many hope that once this proposal is accepted, safety regulations will be solidified in universities, allowing students to receive a qualified education under a safe atmosphere.
All in all, it is certainly vital for the students to increase their sensitivity towards safety issues. Correspondingly, the university headquarters should strive to promote such behavior by developing necessary infrastructures in their educational curriculum and regulations.
Hazards, are they not your story?
Either natural or manmade, disasters are highly prevalent in our society. Accidents occur in every corner of our lives, with different cases of tragic incidents being covered on the news on a daily basis. Facing such brutal reality, one would reasonably expect people to adapt a certain level of caution and prevention in their walks of life. However, the Korean public still remains insensitive to safety.
Why are people so insensitive to hazards? The Korean Association for Local Government Studies (KALGS) explained that safety insensitivity developed with the advancement of technology. We live in a world where sprinklers can detect smoke and suppress fire even before firefighters arrive. An automatic gas detector can smell suffocation before we can, and an electrical fuse can block unnecessary power from a faulty system before it creates a spark. Such advancements in technology are seen as the cause of human overreliance on technology, which then leads to safety insensibility. This shows two sides of the same coin: although technological advancements ensure a certain level of protection from harm, they also have the paradoxical side-effect of human overconfidence on technology.
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“Safety is not a one-time investment. It is a behavior that should be constantly processed on a daily basis,” said Kim Boo-kyum, the Interior and Safety Minister of Korea, at the presentation of the 2018 Results of National Safety Examination Promotion on May 10. The Korean proverb, “To fix the stable after the cow is lost” alerts us about the critical importance of making preventive measures. It is imperative that we start fixing the stable now.

Han Hee-ho, Song Min-sun,

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