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Vanier Scholar Project Examines Occupational Health and Safety Regulations in South Korea

July 10/2020

by Françoise Makanda, Communications Officer at DLSPH

Although South Korea joined the ranks of highly industrialized nations in the new millennium, it has one of the highest fatal occupational injury rates of all OECD countries.

South-Korean born DLSPH PhD Student Juyeon Lee finds that troubling and is working to uncover the reasons behind such high rates.

Juyeon Lee

“The risk of workplace injury is not really equally shared by all workers,” says Lee, who was recently named as a Vanier Scholar. “Precarious workers are disproportionately affected by a fatal occupational injury. I want to investigate the landscape of occupational health and safety regulations since its origin and how it has evolved over time in Korea.”

In recent months, precarious work has received additional media exposure. Precarious workers are at greater risk of catching COVID-19.

“It does not simply mean that those workers are working in a high-risk industry,” she says. “I want to emphasize that those risk are exacerbated by the lack of adequate regulation of occupational health and safety that are effectively enforced by specialized agencies.”

Lee is this year’s sole PHS recipient of the prestigious Vanier Scholarship. She believes that developing nations who finally join the rank of highly industrialized nations do not evolve their regulations as they become highly-industrialized themselves.

“This problem is not just specific to Korea but also common to all late industrialized countries like Korea and many low- and middle-income countries across the world. I hope that my research leads to a better, safer, and healthier workplace for workers, especially precarious workers.”

Lee is surrounded by the brightest minds in global health at DLSPH – Associate Prof. Erica Di Ruggiero is her primary supervisor along with Associate Prof. Lisa Forman is her co-supervisor and Prof. Carles Muntaner is a committee member who together provides economic, political, legal, policy and equity expertise in occupational health.

Lee has always had a keen interest in workers’ health. She has worked for the People’s Health Institute in South Korea. Her studies have always focused on developing research on employment conditions and health inequalities. She developed the idea for her current research while working on these projects and through her public health activism in Korea.

She chose DLSPH for her PhD in the division of social and behavioural health sciences and Collaborative Specialization in Global health. She finds the learning environment supportive. Courses on social theory and through the global health specialization have helped her learn various perspectives in global health.

“DLSPH’s school curriculum is really supportive of the work I’m doing. There are good courses on social policy and social theories,” she says. “I’ve learned very different perspectives on global health. The school is giving me so many opportunities to explore my research area deeply.”