SHARPS welcomes the recognition of workers’ compensation for health damage in children of parents working in the semiconductor industry

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SHARPS has been campaigning for changes in the workers’ compensation law to cover damage to the health of a worker’s child as an occupational disease. In January 2023, an amendment to the workers’ compensation law entered into force that covers damage to the health of a female worker’s child as an occupational disease. Thanks to Ted smith for posting the KBS World article. The English language news link is

Here is an English translation of the press statement from SHARPS about this issue. If you need more information for your occupational health efforts, please let me know.  

Supporters for Health and Rights of People in Semiconductor Industry (SHARPS)

March 22, 2024

Reproductive damage in semiconductor workers is an occupational illness

SHARPS welcomes the recognition of workers’ compensation for health damage in children of parents working in the semiconductor industry

Today, March 22, 2024, the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service notified three female semiconductor workers of coverage for their children's health damage.

All three are children of female workers who worked as operators at Samsung Semiconductor. Kim Hye-joo (pseudonym), Kim Sung-hwa (pseudonym), and Kim Eun-sook worked in the 1990s and 2000s, before semiconductor occupational diseases were known to society. They were unaware that various chemicals in semiconductor factories could harm their children's health.

The company did not require them to leave when they became pregnant, but it also did not provide any protection for pregnant workers. So, Kim Hye-joo poured developer while pregnant; Kim Eun-sook worked hard to heat epoxy; and Kim Sung-hwa handled wafers until her hands and feet were covered in calluses.

Their children were born with disabilities such as missing kidneys and immobile large intestines. It was a long process for the victims to receive workers' compensation. They had to fight for a change in the law before they could seek workers' compensation.

On April 29, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that children born sick due to their mothers' exposure to hazardous substances are eligible for workers' compensation, but the National Assembly failed to amend the Workers' Compensation Act (so-called Prenatal Injury Act). In response, the victims filed for workers' compensation before the law was in place and appealed to the media to call for the law to be revised. As a result, the law was revised in December 2021.

Since then, the victims have had to go through the process of enforcement and epidemiological investigation, and have not received their compensation results until now, nearly three years after the date of application (May 20, 2021).

The Occupational Disease Adjudication Committee hearing at the Seoul Southern Branch of the Korea Workers’ Compensation and Welfare Service found that Kim Hye-Joo, Kim Sung-Hwa, and Kim Eun-Sook were exposed to various reproductive toxicants and germ cell mutagens; that they were likely exposed to many hazardous substances in the workplace environment in the past; and that it could not be concluded that the exposure level of the fetus was low based on the workers' own exposure.

The health impairment of the children of Ms. Kim Hye-joo, Ms. Kim Sung-hwa, and Ms. Kim Eun-sook was recognized as an occupational injury based on: 1) In many cases of serious malformations in the fetus, miscarriage can result. The fact that the increased rate of miscarriage in semiconductor women workers was confirmed indicates the possibility of fetal malformations among them; and 2) The plaintiffs experienced miscarriage during their work in the semiconductor factory; and 3) The plaintiffs gave birth to healthy babies after leaving work in the factory and moving to office work.

This recognition has the following implications. First, it means that reproductive damage in semiconductor workers has qualified as an occupational disease. Among semiconductor workers there are stories that they go to the gynecologist a lot, or that their children are affected. In fact, many electronics industry victims testified to SHARPS that they experienced menstrual irregularities, infertility, miscarriage, and damage to their child's health.

The epidemiologic studies of the three women recognized that there was indirect evidence of an increased risk of health impairment in their children among female semiconductor workers. The Occupational Disease Adjudication Committee took this into account and recognized the three women's disabilities as work-related. While naming it as an occupational injury does not make the pain go away, we hope that this recognition will provide some comfort to Kim Hye-Joo, Kim Sung-Hwa, Kim Eun-Sook and their families, and to the countless other semiconductor workers and their families who have suffered from reproductive damage.

Second, the risk of health damage from reproductive toxicants occurs in a variety of industries, not just the semiconductor industry. Against the backdrop of the three workers' compensation claims and the revision of the Workers' Compensation Insurance Act, the Korean Occupational Safety and Health Agency conducted a large-scale study to identify the risk of reproductive health effects in each industry. As a result, reproductive health risks were identified in various industries, including manufacturing, construction, and healthcare, and the risks were found to be higher when both the mother and father worked.

These findings indicate that the health effects on children of parent’s work are not limited to healthcare or the electronics industry. Efforts to identify the various workers who are affected by reproductive toxicants, and to create safe workplaces free of reproductive toxicity, must be carried out not only in the semiconductor industry, but in society as a whole.

We hope that this ruling will further strengthen workplace safety and health management of reproductive toxicants and germ cell mutagens.

Finally, we confirmed that children with health impairments caused by their fathers' work should be included in workers' compensation insurance.

As mentioned earlier, research has confirmed that miscarriages and other health impacts can increase due to the work of fathers as well as mothers. However, the revision of the Workers' Compensation Insurance Act in 2021 unfortunately did not include cases where the father was exposed to hazardous factors, so the case of Choi Hyun-chul (a pseudonym), who is currently under epidemiological investigation, cannot qualify for workers’ compensation at this time.

Both fathers and mothers can be exposed to hazards at work, but workers' compensation only covers one of them.

As research has confirmed the impact of fathers' work, the workers' compensation law should be revised soon. We hope that the Workers' Compensation Act will be revised before Choi Hyun-chul's claim is completed so that health damage in his child can also be recognized as qualifying for workers’ compensation.

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