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[Herald Interview] GM Korea to bolster safety management in time of e-mobility

Chief Safety Officer at GM Korea, Wayne O'Brien, speaks to The Korea Herald in an interview on Thursday at GM Korea's Bupyeong plant. (GM Korea)

Chief Safety Officer at GM Korea, Wayne O’Brien, speaks to The Korea Herald in an interview on Thursday at GM Korea’s Bupyeong plant. (GM Korea)

As the automobile industry transitions towards electrification, GM Korea is establishing new safety measures to address potential risks associated with new technologies in manufacturing electric vehicles.

Wayne O’Brien, chief safety officer at GM Korea, told The Korea Herald last week that electrification program does bring different safety exposures, particularly in the form of energy, and that they are in the process of developing robust systems to help employees understand all the critical paths for reducing risks associated with EVs.

“From a technology point of view, the number one element is exposure to hazardous energy in the form of electricity. We’re in the process of writing a new component of our safety system, which we call EVOS, electric vehicle occupational safety,” he said.

“The key point is the EV’s future brings a whole new value stream of risk from design to engineering with chemicals and components, to storing batteries in warehouses, and environments to assembling vehicles. So we have to go back and rethink all these value streams to make sure that we have processes in place.”

GM Korea holds safety talks before each meeting during which employees have to share some safety issues observed at the workplace, not allowing employees to walk around the manufacturing plants while looking at their phones, and limiting driving speed to 20 km/h inside the plant.

“Introducing safety programs is a continuous activity you need to be continuously checking, monitoring, and adjusting. One thing GM is very good at is, we have a global network and we have lots of information flowing in from around the world. We’re continuously looking at the feedback we receive to adjust safety culture whether that be in Korea or China or any of the other countries we do business in,” said the chief safety officer.

In terms of South Korea, in which the government introduced the Serious Accidents Punishment Act in January, some domestic companies have bolstered safety measures by adopting automated systems and uncrewed systems to maintain safety.

Under the new law, owners and CEOs of companies with five or more employees can face a minimum one-year prison sentence or up to a fine of 1 billion won ($833,000) in the event of serious workplace disasters.

But O’Brien believes the law, in essence, isn’t about punishment.

“So if you look at the intention of the government, it is to do risk assessments, provide training, provide budget, and provide personal protective equipment. This will prevent somebody being injured. The mindset should always be to protect rather than just talk about punishment.”

On the recent Itaewon crowd tragedy, the safety chief at GM Korea said that people should speak up for safety.

“We all have a responsibility to make sure that we can be safe, whether that be in a workplace or social environment. If you sense danger, you should react. My career is to share the knowledge and experience I’ve had from many parts of the world to try and help, do whatever I can do from a Korean perspective. I’m aware of all of those tragic events and we need to work harder to prevent them from happening.”

Wayne O’Brien was appointed GM’s Chief Safety Officer in Korea on Feb. 1 this year, in addition to his continued responsibility as Global Workplace Safety Officer, GM International and GM China.

O’Brien has been the manager of environment, safety and industrial hygiene in GM International since 2010, responsible for management and oversight of safety programs.

He has led the development of various successful and systematically implemented initiatives based on GM’s global safety management system, according to the company.

By Hong Yoo ([email protected])


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