HOMESpecial TopicsRENGO’s Efforts on the Issue of AsbestosII. Basic Ideas

RENGO’s Efforts on the Issue of Asbestos

II. Basic Ideas

The following is our basic thinking on the asbestos problem. Based on this and working together with the government and related agencies, we will work to achieve the following.

 1.Legislation of a Fundamental Law on Asbestos (provisional title)

Since current asbestos-related regulations and measures are under the jurisdictions of multiple ministries, a fundamental law on asbestos should be enacted to provide comprehensive prescriptions. The fundamental law, while stipulating the responsibilities of the government, local governments and private corporations, should provide for asbestos victims and families who are ineligible for compensation under current compensation laws for industrial accidents, treating as affected by “pollution-caused health hazards.” The law should deal with matters concerning compensation, health management, mental care, etc., and measures for the control, management, removal and disposal of asbestos should be implemented consistently and coherently by the concerned ministries and agencies, local governments and private companies.

 2.A Total Ban on the Manufacturing and Use of Asbestos

The total ban on asbestos that the government plans to implement in 2008 should be instituted ahead of schedule. The government has announced a plan to completely ban the manufacturing and use of asbestos in 2008, after implementing, in 2007, a change from the current method of using a negative list (listing only products whose manufacturing and use is prohibited) to a positive list method (listing only the products exempted from the general ban on manufacturing and use on the ground that no substitute is available) and by confirming the availability of substitute products. However, to ensure that people can live without anxiety, a “total ban on the use and production of asbestos” should be implemented as soon as possible, and a “non-asbestos society” needs to be realized.

    The lack of substitutes is given as a reason for the reluctance to introduce a total ban more quickly. Consequently, the development of substitute products should be promoted under international cooperation by listing products for which substitutes are not currently available.

 3.trengthening Measures for the Prevention of Health Hazards and Instituting a System of Comprehensive Compensation for Those Affected

(1) Investigations should continue to find out how asbestos is used, and based on these findings, efforts should be made to prevent exposure.

(2) A system to provide compensation for people affected by environmental exposure, family exposure and occupational exposure but who are ineligible for the current compensation system should be established. In terms of the operation of the workers’ accident compensation insurance system with regard to asbestos, improvements should be made in the way those affected bear the burden of proof, the status of limitation should be extended, and the criteria to determine eligibility for workers’ accident compensation insurance coverage should be improved.

(3) A system should be established to confirm and identify high-risk individuals affected by environmental exposure, family exposure and occupational exposure who are not eligible for the current compensation system, and to establish a health management system that can quickly detect their health problems.

(4) Training and education systems should be upgraded so that healthcare professionals and medical institutions can be fully and completely aware of the latest information about asbestos-related diagnosis, treatment and compensation systems.

(5) “Mental care” should be improved for those affected by asbestos, their families and those concerned about asbestos exposure.

(6) Outpatient expenses should be provided for affected people (certified patients) who are ineligible for coverage under the workers’ accident compensation insurance.

 4.Further Strengthening of Existing Asbestos Countermeasures

(1) Asbestos-containing materials used in buildings should be identified as promptly as possible and the information should be disclosed. Such materials should be indicated in a clear-cut manner by labeling or by coloring. In addition, structures and other equipment, machines, etc. where asbestos is exposed should be subjected to similar regulations.

(2) A program for the systematic and phased removal of asbestos should be developed involving the national government, local governments and the private sector. In addition, a guideline and manual for asbestos control and monitoring until the completion of removal should be developed and widely publicized.

(3) With regard to the work to remove highly-airborne-asbestos-containing products such as residential and non-residential construction, stringent and clear-cut work rules should be established to ensure consistency with the related legislation and harmony with relevant ministries and agencies.

(4) A program of systematic and phased disposal of asbestos-containing products should be developed involving the national government, local governments and the private sector. The national government and local governments should fully disclose the information available to them about disposal, including disposal in the past.

(5) Local governments should be allowed to conduct on-site inspections in buildings, etc. As for the scope of buildings, etc., that can be inspected, the provisions of the Fire Defense Law (Article 16, paragraph 5) should be applied. In so doing, the framework to enable asbestos-related on-site inspections by local autonomous bodies should be discussed. Further, clearance orders and penalties should be issued to owners of buildings, etc., as per the Fire Defense Law.

(6) A third party agency should be established to monitor the government’s implementation of asbestos-related measures. The agency should be charged with monitoring government failures and negligence in the implementation.

 5.Establishment of an Asbestos Fund

Considering that damage will continue to increase in the future, an enormous amount of money will be needed for an effective system capable of paying adequate compensation to victims. In the United States, not a few companies have gone bankrupt under the weight of asbestos-related compensation requirements. As such, an “Asbestos Fund” should be established to support the compensation system, with financing from the government and asbestos product producers.

    The “Asbestos Fund” should be mainly financed by contributions from the government, and companies should be asked to contribute a quota determined by the volume and the degree of danger of the asbestos they use in their respective products. For the fund to be viable in the long-term, the burden of individual corporations should be dispersed through split funding over multiple years, so that they can be prepared for the economic burden that will likely occur in the future.

 6.Establishing a Conference on Asbestos

A “National Conference on Asbestos,” open to the public and participated in by the government, patients, patients’ families, NPOs, healthcare professionals, lawyers, trade unions, and other groups, should be established under the Cabinet Office to undertake various researches, recommend policies and conduct verifications.