Compensating Asbestos-harmed Workers

Japan Compensating Asbestos-harmed Workers

Last week, a Japanese high court reversed an initial ruling and ordered the state as well as four major building materials manufacturers to pay damages amounting to 370 million yen (about $3.2 million USD) to 62 construction workers and/or their families in compensation for the illnesses they developed due to asbestos exposure at a variety of work sites.

Japan Compensating Asbestos-harmed Workers“The Tokyo High Court ruled the state should have obligated construction workers to wear protective dust masks by 1981 at the latest, saying the state should have known the health risks posed by asbestos by around 1980,” reported Japan Today, noting that the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare viewed the ruling as a “harsh” decision and is considering how to move forward.

The initial case by the plaintiffs was dismissed more than five years ago, with the court ruling that “the government’s regulations on asbestos cannot be said to have been unreasonable from the standpoint of knowledge at the time.” The appeal was a long time coming but a true victory for the more than five dozen individuals who remained part of the lawsuit.

Unfortunately, some of the plaintiffs have already succumbed to asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma cancer, so the celebration was bittersweet for their families.

In Japan, after years of not holding building products manufacturers liable for injury in asbestos-related cases, this is the third verdict in a year that has found in favor of the plaintiffs.

In this particular suit, there were originally 89 plaintiffs involved and 43 companies were named as defendants. However, the court decided that only four – A&A Material Corp in Yokohama, Nichias Corp and MMK Corp in Tokyo, and Konoshima Co in Osaka – should pay compensation in this instance. (There is no mention as to why the number of plaintiffs was reduced.)

Still, the building materials companies have denied responsibility, claiming that there is no way it can be determined which products belonging to which manufacturer would have harmed the group of plaintiffs, which includes carpenters and others involved in the building industry.

The government also maintains that the dangers of asbestos “were not known in the past”, though the fact that asbestos causes cancer was first brought forth as early as the 1920s.

Japan banned the use of crocidolite and amosite asbestos in 1995 and a total ban on asbestos use was achieved by early 2012. From that point on, the manufacture, import, transfer, provision or use of material containing more than 0.1% asbestos by weight was illegal under the country’s Occupational Safety and Health Law.