【記者會】無石綿的社會 日本跨步邁進 台灣呢？
Toward an asbestos-free environment,
Taiwan Occupational Safety and Health Link
In June of 2005, the media disclosed that over the past 10 years, more than 50 former workers of the Kanzaki factory of the Kubota Corporation, a leading machinery manufacturer in Japan, had died from mesothelioma. It is a rare type of cancer and is caused almost exclusively by asbestos exposure. Subsequent reports further revealed that some residents in the neighboring area also died from the disease. These events shocked the society, leading to a nationwide social movement up until today demanding for fair compensation to workers and residents succumbed to asbestos related diseases. In response the government of Japan amended compensation regulations and took measures to control asbestos hazards in the environment. In Taiwan, occupational asbestos exposure was also severe in the past. Workers in manufacturing factories, construction and renovation sites as well as shipbuilding and ship-breaking industries were exposed to high levels of asbestos. Until now, asbestos-containing materials are still ubiquitous in our living environment. However, in contrast to Japan's development, Taiwan's government has turned a blind eye to the hardships encountered by patients with asbestos-related diseases, and has done little, if any, actions to control asbestos exposures.
Epidemic of asbestos-related diseases is an undeniable fact
Asbestos is known to cause a variety of diseases, including asbestosis, mesothelioma, lung cancer and other malignant cancers. More than 50 countries have banned asbestos in all types, but asbestos is still allowed in some manufacturing factories in Taiwan. It is even more troublesome that many Asian countries including China, Thailand, Vietnam and India are still consuming asbestos on a large scale. The World Health Organization has asserted that asbestos related diseases represent a rising epidemic especially in Asia.
In almost all economically advanced countries, asbestos had been banned many years ago. However, due to a long disease latency, the number of asbestos-related diseases continues to rise. As shown in Japan, high asbestos consumption in the past has contributed to the rising trend of mesothelioma deaths. Over the past 20 years, the number of mesothelioma deaths has grown by 3-fold, accounting for 1500 deaths in year 2015 alone.
Clinical case reports published by Taiwanese researchers have indicated that asbestos-related diseases are also on a rise in Taiwan. Epidemiologic studies from Taiwan have found that workers previously exposed to asbestos exposure, including shipyard workers, were at substantially higher risks for asbestos-related diseases than the general population. to the workers who exposed asbestos in shipbuilding and ship-breaking industry. Dr. Lee Jyuhn-Hsiarn, a researcher and physician of the National Health Research Institutes of Taiwan, analyzed data from the Taiwan Cancer Registry and found that the incidence rate of mesothelioma has increased steadily over years. Based on Taiwan's asbestos consumption data in the past, we expect to observe more and more asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos litigation, compensation and relief act in Japan
Mr. Sugio Furuya, the Secretary General of the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC), Mr. Shinichiro Sawada, the Secretary General of the Japan Association of Mesothelioma and Asbestos Related Disease Victims and their Families, and Mr. Muramatsu, an attorney at law and the leader of the Osaka Asbestos Litigation Team, issued a statement together, which stated that the best way to eradicate asbestos related diseases is to ban asbestos, but it is only the first step. The next step should be the removal of asbestos from our living environment.
As to victims succumbed to asbestos related diseases, the judicial system is an alternative to realize fair compensation, beside the worker’s compensation system and the relief scheme. Asbestos victims and their families in Sennan area, the birthplace of Japan’s asbestos textile industry, filed a class lawsuit in 2006 against the government, accusing that the government had failed to supervise enterprises and implement necessary regulations. After 8 years of legal process, the Supreme Court issued its final decision on October 9, 2014, asserting that the Japan government was liable for the damages suffered by asbestos victims. Moreover, construction workers suffer from asbestos diseases and their families also filed lawsuits against the governments and producers of asbestos containing building materials. Similar lawsuits have been filed nationwide, and the district courts of Tokyo, Fukuoka, Osaka and Kyoto had all determined that the governments were liable. The court of Kyoto further determined that building material manufacturers were also responsible for the health damages. Activists in Japan have have proposed to establish a special fund to help other asbestos victims who did not file lawsuits.
Examining Taiwan's occupational safety and health systems
Taiwan Occupational Safety and Health Link, a NGO dedicated to promoting workers' health, has interviewed several workers with mesothelioma or other asbestos-related diseases. We found that most of these workers had clear occupational history of asbestos exposure, but few of them were aware of asbestos risks. Furthermore, very few of them were eligible for workers' compensation, due to many barriers existing in current workers' compensation systems.
In response to asbestos epidemics, Japan and many western countries have taken several policy actions, including the establishment of reporting mechanisms for asbestos related diseases, provision of health care for the victims, provision of regular health checkups for high exposure groups, setting up monitoring and management mechanisms of asbestos-containing materials and wastes. In contrast, the government of Taiwan has long been negligent in overlooking workers' health problems caused by industrial hazards. Under current workers' compensation systems, workers suffering from occupational diseases can hardly obtain fair compensation. While asbestos is still allowed and no effective environmental control strategies are implemented, numerous workers in construction, renovation, demolition, waste removal industries and even the general public are all under the health threats of asbestos. We urge the government to take immediate actions as following:
Prevent exposure The government should impose a complete ban on asbestos, check and label existing asbestos exposure, provide workers with proper personal protective equipments, manage asbestos wastes and strengthen the inspection of imported goods.
Health surveillance The government should establish regular health check mechanism for high exposure groups, make list of high exposure workers and provide health checkups even after job changes or retirement, and establish a national registration and notification mechanism for mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases.
Compensation and relief Major reforms of the workers' compensation system are urgently needed, including a full coverage of all employees, more comprehensive scope and increased levels of benefits and simplification of application procedure. A relief system should also be established for disease victims due to environment asbestos exposure.
Health education The government should inform the public of the health risks of asbestos, exposure control methods as well as the purpose and importance of workers' compensation for occupational diseases.