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Employee Health and Safety at Semiconductor Facilities
Safety at Samsung
1. Is it safe for people to work in Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor plants?
Yes, of course. We work hard to ensure the health and safety of all employees. For 40 years and counting, we have innovated new practices and advanced responsible chemical and process safety management both in our facilities and across the semiconductor industry. We operate state-of-the art systems, including rigorous chemical management, at all of our semiconductor fabrication plants worldwide.
We meet industry environment, health and safety (EHS) standards across all of our semiconductor fabrication plants, and our on-going ambition is to invest in finding better standards for ourselves and the industry. We have innovated many of the processes and controls that are now standard in the industry and continue to look for further enhancements.
For instance, in addition to being the first to develop and implement real-time, 24/7 chemical monitoring in 2007, we operate highly effective filtration and ventilation systems at all times in our semiconductor fabrication facilities, and these systems are capable of eliminating any potentially dangerous chemicals in real-time. Therefore, the cleanliness of the air within our facilities is equivalent to or better than that we breathe in our general surroundings.
2. How does Samsung Electronics monitor the safety in its semiconductor fabrication plants?
Our dedicated team of more than 500 EHS specialists oversees our operations and conducts regular inspections. This oversight ensures that each Samsung Electronics facility complies with the most stringent regulations. For instance, because of sheer caution and strict management of chemicals, we maintain exposure levels below one-tenth of permitted legal requirements. In addition to our routine safety inspections, credible third parties verify our inspections results regularly. Government agencies also conduct frequent and unannounced audits at all our semiconductor fabrication plants.
3. Do you educate and inform your workers about the safety and the risks related to their job?
Every employee is required to participate in health and safety training. We customize each employee’s training for his or her role from more than 120 total courses offered, ranging from handling chemicals to ISO/OSHAS protocols and emergency response. Employees begin training when they are initially hired and continue to receive training on a monthly basis throughout their careers at our company. We also partner with more than 20 external institutions to ensure that we are offering the best training to our people
4. Does Samsung Electronics use benzene in its semiconductor manufacturing process?
Benzene is an elementary petrochemical that is a component in everyday products, such as plastic, synthesized rubber, gasoline, and detergents. But studies have found that when exposed through the air, benzene may increase the risk of certain illnesses, including cancer. In this regard, Benzene is strictly prohibited within the semiconductor industry and we have never used the chemical in our semiconductor operations.
However, a 2009 consulting project, suggested by the Korean Ministry of Labor and led by an academic team from Seoul National University, found trace amounts of the chemical (average 0.33ppb) that were considerably lower than the industry exposure standard (1,000ppb). If Benzene is created as a by-product of production process by chance, it is highly unlikely for Samsung employees to be affected by Benzene, in that its detected level was the similar amount found in everyday products and the usual air environment (0.1~10.0ppb).
To make sure, re-examination of the same sample was carried out by several laboratories in Korea and an internationally-certified test lab, which found no traces of benzene. Out of an abundance of caution, Samsung continues to closely monitor for evidence of benzene as part of our chemical management and monitoring system.
5. Does Samsung disclose the names of its chemicals used in its semiconductor plants?
Semiconductor fabrication is a highly complex and technical process that uses chemicals and potentially hazardous materials. However, we have a very strict hazardous materials policy and we closely regulate chemical exposure throughout the manufacturing process, from storage to disposal.
Also, we carefully select, test and cross-check materials and keep chemical exposure levels at one-tenth of the legal requirements; and those levels are regularly verified by independent third parties, thereby ensuring that any exposure remains significantly below any level that could cause harm to people and the environment.
We always strictly evaluate our safety controls to ensure employees and neighboring communities are not exposed to any potentially harmful chemicals. We have also developed an environmental safety index to inform the company’s important stakeholder groups with essential environmental information.
Before a new chemical substance is introduced, it is analyzed for physical and chemical characteristics, potential health hazards and any associated risks. Following analysis, appropriate health and environmental safety controls and measures for storage, use, disposal and recycling are implemented. Plus, chemicals are stored outside of the cleanroom and chemical levels are monitored in all facilities in real-time, which was a first in the semiconductor industry.
While contents of a number of materials have remained undisclosed and protected as trade secrets, we require that all of our suppliers comply with our strict hazardous materials policy and test every chemical they supply us for compliance.
6. What is Samsung Electronics’ position on the rulings of the Seoul Administrative Court, saying it infers a “considerable causal link” between leukemia and working conditions at Samsung’s semiconductor fabrication plants?
While we respect the rulings of the Seoul Administrative Court, it is important to note that the Court acknowledged that there is no scientifically proven correlation between workplace environment and employee illness. .
In fact, independent research conducted by KOSHA, the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency, and other consultants further confirmed no evidence of illness caused by the semiconductor work environment.
In addition, we were not a defendant in the cases heard by the Seoul Administrative Court, but were named a party of interest in the case by the Court. In this role, we cooperated with the Korea Worker’s Compensation and Welfare Service (KCOMWEL) to properly present the facts.
Training & Employees Welfare
7. What actions has Samsung Electronics taken since this issue was first raised?
We hold ourselves and our suppliers to the highest health and safety standards, and consider our people our greatest asset. We maintain a world-class environment, safety and health infrastructure and rigorous standards to safeguard our employees’ well-being. The company has earned and maintains the ISO 14001 (1996) and OHSAS 18001 (1999) certifications for our global business practices, affirming that we implement effective environmental and employee safety controls over our business processes and activities.
In fact, in 2014 alone, Samsung invested more than USD 1 billion for continued upkeep and improvement of our semiconductor infrastructure and we will continue to follow up on our commitment with considerable amounts of investments every year.
To improve health and safety measures, we also established the Samsung Health Research Institute, a research organization comprised of specialists in areas including health, medicine, chemical engineering and environmental health. The institute has conducted more than 180 research projects since its opening in 2010, to ensure healthy working environments and improve employees’ well-being, and raise the standard for assessing workplace health and safety.
8. Does Samsung also work with independent third parties to verify safe working conditions?
Since 2007, Samsung has cooperated in epidemiological investigations conducted by government bodies including the Occupational Safety & Health Research Institute (OSHRI) of the Korea Occupational Safety and Health Agency (KOSHA) to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for our employees. These investigations did not find correlation between leukemia and the semiconductor work environment.
Environ, a leading environmental consultancy, conducted a study on Samsung’s semiconductor workplace environment, in which it concluded that chemical and physical agent exposure levels were within industry standards, and that historical workplace exposure was unlikely to have caused the diagnosed cancers. The study was reviewed by an external Scientific Advisory Panel of experts from institutions including the Harvard School of Public Health, Yale University School of Medicine, Tisch Cancer Institute and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine. Results were presented at the International Commission on Occupational Health (March, 2012) and the American Industrial Hygiene conference and Expo (June, 2012).
Samsung Electronics’ Health Research Institute continues to conduct longer term research to inform continuous improvement to our employee health and safety program
9. What kind of support does Samsung Electronics currently provide to current and former semiconductor employees who have fallen ill or have passed away?
During or after their period of employment at our semiconductor fabrication plants, some employees developed diseases that were difficult to treat. We are deeply saddened by the loss of those who were members of the Samsung family, and are concerned about those who continue to battle illness. In this regard, Oh-hyun Kwon, the CEO and Vice Chairman of Samsung Electronics, acknowledged on May 14, 2014 that the speed with which Samsung was addressing the concerns of former employees and their families needed to be accelerated. Through this apology about the length of time it was taking to address concerns and reiterating Samsung’s empathy, he reemphasized how the best interest of the employees has been at the heart of every decision the company made.
As is standard practice and a sign of respect in Korea, we provide support to employees who become ill while employed with Samsung. Support may include financial aid, medical expense assistance and insurance coverage. These efforts were made because it is the right thing to do — not because we have any legal or court-ordered mandates to do so.
Open Dialogue for Resolution
10. What was the nature of the discussions with the affected families and participating parties?
Samsung is committed to providing all of our employees a safe and healthy work environment in every facility we operate around the world. It is truly sad and heart-breaking for us that some of Samsung’s former employees have passed away or are coping with difficult-to-treat diseases after having worked at our semiconductor manufacturing facilities in Korea. We have been faithfully committed to working with the affected families to determine how best to help them, and continue to actively engage in discussions with the families and participating parties.
Samsung is trying to do the right thing to relieve the concerns and hardships of former employees suffering illnesses and their families. We wish we had more effectively conveyed our compassion and addressed such concerns earlier and with more urgency while we communicated that there is no correlation between their illnesses and the workplace.
In this spirit, an independent, third-party Mediation Committee led by a former Supreme Court judge was formed in December, 2014, to oversee open dialogue between Samsung and the parties involved, conducting in-depth hearings and assessing the parties’ respective proposals.
11. What is the current status and what’s next?
In response to the Mediation Committee’s proposal, Samsung Electronics created a company-run fund of KRW 100 billion for financial aid as well as preventive measures on workplace safety, and representatives from affected families have been participating in the financial support program. As of November, 2016, more than 160 people applied and 120 people have received financial support through the program as well as a heartfelt message of sympathy from Samsung’s CEO.
In January, 2016, Samsung Electronics reached an agreement with the Family Committee and the Supporters for the Health And Rights of People in the Semiconductor industry (SHARPS) on the mediation proposal to establish an independent, third-party Ombudsman Committee. The Ombudsman Committee was launched in June, 2016 to carry out an overall audit of Samsung Electronics’ semiconductor facilities and develop plans to improve health and safety conditions.
Samsung will faithfully implement proposed improvements from the Ombudsman Committee and remains fully committed to providing a safe and healthy working environment for our valued employees.
For more information, please visit www.samsung.com/safety.
*First Posted on February 3rd, 2015
*Updated on March 24th, 2015: Added Mediation and Open Communication section
*Updated on April 20th, 2015: Updated Safety at Samsung and Training & Employees Welfare
*Updated on May 14th, 2015: Updated Training & Employees Welfare
*Updated on August 3rd, 2015: Updated Safety at Samsung, Litigation, and Training & Employees Welfare, Changed Section Title of Mediation and Open Communication to Open Dialogue for Resolution
*Updated on January 22nd, 2016 : Updated Safety at Samsung and Open Dialogue for Resolution
*Updated on December 12nd, 2016 : Updated Open Dialogue for Resolution