environment

Samsung’s battery factory in Göd fined for seriously endangering its workers

Samsung’s battery factory in Göd has so far received more than a dozen fines from various authorities. The Labour Inspectorate has now fined the company €10 million for seriously endangering its workers. However, the South Korean company is unlikely to have any problems paying the fines, as it generated sales of HUF 759 billion and profits of HUF 15.5 billion last year.

We have reported on the penalties imposed by the authorities on Samsung’s Göd factory in several articles. We have written about fines for failure to obtain an occupancy permit and for the improper storage of hazardous substances. The labour inspectorate had previously fined the company twice for serious shortcomings. In February this year, Samsung was fined three million forints for failings that caused a fatal accident last November.

But in March, the authority fined the company again, this time for the highest amount, HUF ten million. We requested documents of the new fine in a FOI request. The authority extended the deadline for response to 45 days. After the deadline had passed, we recived the decision we asked for, however, much of the information was withheld.

The document shows that Samsung SDI Hungary Zrt. „seriously and directly endangered the health and physical integrity of 23 of its employees”.

For months, the workers had to endure increased exposure to various air pollutants, but the company also violated regulations on carcinogens.

Increased exposure occurs when a worker develops concentrations of certain chemicals in his or her body that exceed certain biological limits during, in the course of or in connection with the performance of work, or when a worker develops a certain degree of hearing loss. The employer is obliged to investigate the case of increased exposure with the involvement of the occupational health service doctor, the occupational safety and health specialist and, if there is one, the occupational safety and health representative. Once the possible causes have been identified, action must be taken to reduce or eliminate the exposure in question and to prevent further incidents of increased exposure.

The decision lists the errors and omissions found during the inspection over 10 pages. The inspections found that air pollution control equipment was not working properly, and that the presence of various respirable dusts, metals, volatile organic compounds – the exact names of the substances are omitted in the text – exceeded the permissible limits on several occasions and in several work areas.

The decision also reveals that the company sent the inspection reports to the authorities only after repeated requests and failed to correct the errors listed in the expert opinion.

In addition, the company did not keep records of workers’ exposure to dangerous and carcinogenic substances, did not ensure or check the use of appropriate protective equipment, did not clean up work equipment contaminated with carcinogens and did not properly carry out chemical risk assessments.

Extract from the report

In imposing the fine, the authority took into account as an aggravating factor, among other things, that the „limit value for pathogenic factors” exceeded 10 percent and that the serious risk had existed for more than one month.

On this basis, a fine of HUF 15.5 million was imposed; but as the maximum fine under the Occupational Safety and Health Act is HUF 10 million, the company was ordered to pay this amount.

With a turnover of €2 billion, fines can be easily paid

According to a summary on the website of the Göd-ÉRT Association, Samsung SDI has been fined 13 times by the authorities, with fines of around HUF 130 million.

The list includes fines of a few hundred thousand forints and several million forints as well. According to the National Environmental Information System, the environmental authority has imposed a fine of HUF 200,000 for Samsung SDI’s failure to comply with the required Noise Abatement Action Plan by the deadline.

Also with a HUF 200,000 fine, the disaster management authority has „enforced” its decision to require the company to submit monitoring well plans that were not submitted by the deadline. The highest fine is the HUF 91.4 million fine imposed on the company for the unauthorised construction of a second industrial hall.

Site plan of the ever-expanding Samsung factory in Göd. On 17 June 2022, the new production plant was granted a permit to maintain the unauthorised factory units and to build additional factory units (source: https://www.e-epites.hu/etdr)

Samsung SDI Hungary Zrt. can pay the fines imposed by the authorities easily, as the amounts are ridiculously low compared to the company’s annual revenues and profits. According to its 2021 annual report, Samsung last year had a turnover of €2 billion (HUF 759 billion), while its after-tax profit tripled to €42 million (HUF 15.5 billion).

Last year the company made a significant capital increase of €300 million. Its tangible fixed assets increased by €1 billion and its inventories by €250 million, of which €120 million was an increase in raw materials. But hazardous waste has also increased: while 23.6 million kilograms of hazardous waste were generated at Samsung’s plants in 2020, 35 million kilograms in 2021.

At the same time, not a single euro was spent on environmental provisions – probably not required by the authorities. And the fines show that, despite substantial sales and profits, the hundreds of billions ‘could not be spent’ on air pollution control equipment, noise barriers and monitoring wells. We contacted the company for comment, but they had not replied by the time this article appeared.

Translated by Zita Szopkó. The original, Hungarian version of this story was written by Zsuzsa Bodnár and can be found here

Cover photo: part of the decision obtained by Átlátszó and the Samsung SDI factory in Göd on 28 January 2020 (source: MTI/Márton Mónus)

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