EHS regulations spotlight: Serious Accident Punishment Act

Dive deeper into one of today’s standout EHS regulations and what its regulatory changes mean for businesses operating in South Korea. 

by Rack Hyuck (Ray) Chung

In 2022, one of the most-asked-about changes in EHS regulations has been The Serious Accident Punishment Act (SAPA). Who is responsible for accidents that result in fatality or severe injury in a workplace? In South Korea, SAPA says more people than before. The act expands the scope of accountability within a business – beyond the company itself to its business leaders and managers. But what does it actually mean in terms of actions businesses must take? Here’s an overview of what you should know about SAPA: 

What makes SAPA one of this year’s standout EHS regulations?

On January 8, 2021,the South Korean National Assembly enacted SAPA to impose criminal liability on business owners, management personnel, or companies holding them responsible for fatalities or severe injuries that occur within their places of business. While SAPA is mainly applicable to accidents that occur in industrial settings, such as factories or construction sites, it can also be applied to office workers if death or severe injury is caused by overwork, electrical accident, or fall while in an office. Therefore, it’s a milestone in a wider movement of expanding accountability through stricter enforcement and EHS regulations. 

Under SAPA, business owners or responsible management personnel must:  

  • Establish and implement health and safety management systems such as assigning responsible personnel and budget to prevent serious accidents  
  • Establish and implement measures to prevent recurrence of serious accidents 
  • Conduct management measures to fulfill the obligations under the applicable safety and health law and comply with government’s corrective orders 
  • Routinely assess the effectiveness of the health and safety management system and whether the managers, employees, and contractors are complying with the safety measures.  

But on top of these obligations, SAPA lays out more specific requirements for business in South Korea – placing even more importance on the responsibility of accident prevention.

What are the prevention requirements under SAPA?

The Enforcement Ordinance of the Serious Accidents Punishment Act establishes specific duties to prevent serious industrial accidents and serious public accidents.  

Generally speaking, the Enforcement Ordinance requires them to 1) establish goals and policies – and someone responsible to put them into place, 2) have response and post-accident plans,3) assess whether these plans are followed, and 4) implement further government requirements. More specifically, the act spells out for companies to do the following (among other obligations) in order to prevent serious industrial accidents:

  • Establish health and safety-related goals and management policies for each facility and assign health and safety managers, as required under Industrial Safety and Health Act, or establish a health and safety group, if a company appointed more than 3 safety and health managers pursuant to Industrial Safety and Health Act or has more than 500 workers, who would implement these goals and policies through safety inspections, workplace improvements, employee interviews, and other appropriate measures
  • Establish immediate serious industrial accident response procedures such as suspension of operation, evacuation, reporting, and removal of risk factors and post-accident procedures to address relief or mediation measures and reporting process
  • Assess whether the health and safety management plan to protect employees and contractors is effective and whether the plan is followed on the worksite at least semi-annually
  • Appoint personnel to carry out tasks to prevent serious public accidents to comply with relevant safety and health laws, inspect risk factors, implement directions from relevant government authorities, and respond in case of signs of danger.; and 

These requirements will roll out to corporations in 2 tiers. For businesses with 50 or more workers, SAPA came into effect on 27 January 2022. On the same date in 2024, its applicability will extend to businesses of all sizes.   

What happens if your business isn’t compliant?

What might be the most eye-catching element of SAPA for those watching EHS regulations is how it runs accountability up the chain of command – so to speak. Rather than only incurring company penalties, individuals of a non-compliant company can be penalized.  

Business owners or responsible management personnel may be subject to imprisonment of one year or more and/or a criminal fine of up to 1 billion KRW (approximately 870,000 USD) for a serious accident that caused the death of one or more workers (persons).  

For other serious industrial accidents or serious public accidents that didn’t result in a death, business responsible may face imprisonment of up to 7 years or a criminal fine of up to 100 million KRW (approximately 87,000 USD).  

Of course, a corporate entity can also still be held liable, separate from its owners or executive, and may face up to 5 billion KRW (approximately 4,350,000 USD) or up to 1 billion KRW (approximately 870,000 USD) for accidents that caused a death and those accidents that caused injury or illness, respectively.  

Stay on top of changing EHS regulations around the world.

Even though it’s been a hot topic for health and safety professionals, SAPA is one among 1000s of new and evolving EHS regulations worldwide. For a wider view of this changing compliance landscape – and to learn more about how regulatory changes impact your business directly, watch our Regulatory Forecaster in action with the free online demo. 

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