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Five killed in South Korea steel plant incident

13 May 2013

Yonhap says five workers suffocated to death on May 10 at a steel plant in Dangjin after gas leaked from a furnace. The workers, employed by a subcontractor of Hyundai Steel Co., were found dead inside the 8-metre-deep rotating furnace in Dangjin, some 123 kilometers south of Seoul, after argon gas leaked from the furnace, according to local authorities.

The victims were removing the scaffolding that had been used for regularly scheduled repair work from inside the furnace when argon gas leaked from a valve causing a lack of oxygen within the container, according to the country's second-largest steel maker.

Though argon is non-toxic, it is denser than air so that it is considered dangerous in closed areas, according to experts. The gas is also hard to detect as it is colourless and odourless. 

"Argon gas is used to check the piping system of the furnace. After the test, they should have made sure all gas was removed," said a Hyundai Steel official.

 "The workers appear not to have equipped themselves with the required safety equipment to prepare for possible gas leakage," he added.

Police said they, along with the local labour administration and Korea Gas Safety Corp., are working on finding the exact cause of the incident.

"Though the workers did not abide by safety regulations, Hyundai also should shoulder responsibility for its failure to properly supervise them as such a job inside the furnace deems highly risky," said an official of the Ministry of Employment and Labor, vowing "a stern punishment in case of illegality."

Hyundai Steel offered condolences to the bereaved families and said: "We are proactively cooperating with the government investigation. We will spare no effort to conduct safety checks to prevent the recurrence of such accidents."

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