NCE visited the Seo-Hae Grand Bridge project just two days before the collapse. In the light of the number of accidents that have occurred during Korean construction projects, Dr Chan-Min Park, the site representative of the Korea Highway Corporation, was keen to stress that everything was being done to eliminate construction defects.
'People worry about structural safety and successful construction,' said Dr Park. 'This bridge is a symbol of our technical capability to overcome this social worry.'
This latest incident follows several recent construction accidents linked to poor workmanship and design. These include the Sampoong department store disaster in 1995, which killed over 120 and injured nearly 1,000, and the collapse of the Songsu Bridge, also in Seoul, which claimed 32 lives and was the biggest of six other bridge collapses in Korea since 1983 (see box).
In response to this unacceptably high accident record, South Korea recently attempted to reverse the trend by insisting that foreign engineering firms are always involved in the design and construction supervision. The construction industry is also trying to learn new construction methods from European and US firms and now has more attention placed on safety both during construction and in its maintenance regimes.
'We are doing our best because we know that any small accident will be broadcast all over the media,' said Dr Park. 'Government officials and many important people visit this site, so structural safety and successful construction are our first considerations. Fortunately we have good teamwork on the project. I want to say thank you to everyone.'
However, the client's worst fears were realised two days later. And as predicted the collapse was covered extensively on television, and in the newspapers.