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Asbestos

Special report: Asbestos trial in Turin
The European Commission decides to prolong the use of asbestos in certain sectors
Towards worldwide asbestos ban
Asbestos in the world - HESA Newsletter - special report
Workers protection
Justice for asbestos victims
Asbestos and the World Trade Organization
Other documents
Useful links



 
 

Special report: Asbestos trial in Turin

A Swiss tycoon and an 88-year-old Belgian baron went on trial in Italy on 10 December 2009, accused of negligence leading to 3,000 asbestos-related deaths and illnesses.

More than 400 asbestos victims and their families plus 150 lawyers and aides packed a Turin courthouse as proceedings got underway in what Italian newspaper La Repubblica has called the "trial of the century". Read more

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The European Commission decides to prolong the use of asbestos in certain sectors

On 22 June 2009, the Commission adopted a regulation that amends Annex XVII of the REACH Regulation on chemical substances. One provision concerns asbestos. The Commission maintains the possibility of using diaphragms containing asbestos in existing electrolysis installations. This derogation concerns six chemical sector plants in Germany, Poland, Sweden and Bulgaria. It is not limited in time in spite of the fact that asbestos-free alternatives exist and are used by other firms. The revised Annex XVII also contains a new provision that authorises the placing on the market of articles containing asbestos under rules that could vary from one country to the next. The only condition laid down is that such articles must have been "installed and/or in service" before 1 January 2005. Such a clause could encourage the creation of a market for used asbestos-containing articles.

 

Towards worldwide asbestos ban

European Union
The European Union's directive 1999/77/EC bans the placing on the market and use of products containing asbestos with effect from 2005. And the 2003/18/EC directive prohibits all activities in which workers are exposed to asbestos fibres in asbestos extraction or production/processing of asbestos products, with effect from 2006.

The TUTB took a strongly proactive line in the European debates which eventually led to the marketing and use of asbestos being banned in the EU.
[read more]

Asbestos and the Rotterdam Convention
The Rotterdam Convention entered into force on 24 February 2004. Adopted on 10 September 1998, the Convention establishes a "Prior Informed Consent procedure," a means for formally obtaining and disseminating the decisions of importing countries as to whether they wish to receive future shipments of specified chemicals and for ensuring compliance with these decisions by exporting countries. The Convention contains a range of 39 highly toxic chemicals. Since the adoption of the Convention,
Canada has been lobbying to block the addition of chrysotile to the list of Prior Informed Consent substances.

Asbestos should be covered by the Rotterdam Convention
(ETUC Press release, 30/10/2008)

Dresden Declaration on the Protection of Workers against Asbestos (September 2003)
The European Conference on Asbestos adopted a declaration for a worldwide ban on asbestos. The European Commission and the Senior Labour Inspectors' Committee together with the German Labour Inspectorate and the Federation of the German Berufsgenossenschaften have organised in 2003 a European Conference on Asbestos. The Conference has received the support of the International Labour Organisation.

Asbestos and the Basel Convention
Dismantling of ships on the agenda of the 6th Conference of the Basel Convention.
The 6th Conference of
the Basel Convention on hazardous wastes held in Geneva on December 9, 2003. One topic concerned hazardous substances from decommissioned ships, as asbestos.
About 700 ships are scrapped every year. Most of them in Asian shipbreaking locations. Most of the ships built in the 60s and 70s are full of asbestos and other toxic substances. Only three signatories have not yet ratified the Basel Convention : Afghanistan, Haiti and the United States of America.

Towards  asbestos ban: national situations
Argentina | Australia | Brazil | Canada | Chile | Croatia | Egypt | Honduras | India | Japan | Peru | Philippines | South Africa | USA | Uruguay |

[ read more ]
 

Asbestos in the world - HESA Newsletter - special report

Asbestos has been banned throughout the European Union since 1 January 2005. But the joy is tinged with bitterness. Joy at a ban won after a long and difficult struggle by trade unions and victim groups. Bitter, because the time lost in getting to a total asbestos ban still leaves a death sentence hanging over hundreds of thousands of people.

Nor is it the end of the story. The huge quantities of asbestos used in Europe throughout the 20th century will continue to kill tens of thousands of people every year for the next two decades. European Union experts estimate that asbestos-related cancers will cause approximately 500 000 deaths up to the year 2030 in Western Europe alone. Legacy asbestos - especially in waste disposal and building asbestos-stripping operations - puts workers and the community at immense risk. The high cost of these alone should be enough to show up the flaws in industry arguments against replacing carcinogens in production processes. ...

 

Workers protection

The revision of the Community directive concerning the use of asbestos has created a better legal framework in the EU countries. The directive of 27 March 2003 demonstrates a certain amount of progress. The new wording of Article 5 means, in practice, that it is forbidden to continue making materials or products containing asbestos which are intended for export. Other positive elements are the decrease in the exposure limit to 0.1 fibres/cm3 and the extension of the directive's scope.
However, the directive does have certain deficiencies, notably:

  • the revised directive does not cover self-employed workers. This means that employers wishing to bypass the directive can have work done by a self-employed worker without having to adopt the specified prevention measures;
  • it should be ensured that all demolition work on buildings or installations containing asbestos and all asbestos clean-ups are performed by companies approved on the basis of adequate criteria (workers' training, high-quality protection equipment, experience in this type of work, etc.). The current provisions in the directive are too vague in this regard and lag behind the International Labour Organisation's Convention 162 of 1986  which stipulates that such work may only be carried out by employers or entrepreneurs whom the competent authority has recognised as being qualified and has authorised to perform such work;
  • the requirements concerning reporting of work involving asbestos exposure should be reinforced. There should be a list of the exposed workers so as to allow effective monitoring and health surveillance. This is all the more important since, in the majority of Community states, the registers of workers exposed to asbestos have some serious deficiencies.


Ban asbestos now! The International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF) launched a campaign for a global ban on asbestos
There is only one useful thing you can do with asbestos. Ban it.
Unions are working towards a worldwide ban. This means switching from asbestos mining, processing and use, to alternative products. It means industrial regeneration to replace deadly jobs with safe and sustainable jobs.
But we still face the deadly legacy. This is why IMF is backing its affiliated unions in campaigns for compensation and justice.

Asbestos is still haunting - for how long ? Declaration from the Nordic Federation of Building and Wood Workers' on asbestos
The Nordic countries were among the first in the world to realize that there is only one safe way of protection against the dangerous asbestos: Ban on any kind of use. Therefore in the Nordic countries bans were gradually introduced from beginning of the 1970’es and to the end of the 1980’es.

[ read more ]
 

Justice for asbestos victims

Recognition of asbestos-related occupational diseases is still confronted by numerous obstacles in the European Union. This social injustice is aggravated by the absence of harmonised criteria for recognising occupational diseases. There are still significant differences between recognition of mesothelioma in the different countries of the European Union. There are strong grounds to suppose that non-recognition of asbestos-related lung cancers is even more widespread. The data on asbestosis also indicate considerable disparities. Whereas the EU average for asbestosis cases recognised as occupational diseases were 30 per million workers in 1995, the figure was 1 per million in Portugal, 28 in the United Kingdom, 30 in France, 59 in Germany and 96 in Belgium.

If it is imperative that recognition of asbestos-related illnesses be improved within the framework of compensation systems for occupational diseases, it might be useful to establish specific funds to allow better compensation for the victims (including self-employed workers, family members who have been subjected to domestic exposure, etc.). France's and the Netherlands' experiences with such funds could serve as a reference model for other countries.

Recognition of occupational diseases should be accompanied by an improvement in the therapies available.

Legal proceedings against those directly responsible for workers' exposure to asbestos are all the more important because the compensation systems for occupational diseases only provide lump-sum payments which are relatively low compared to the total compensation paid where fault can be proven. From the political point of view, it is time to put a stop to the tolerance from which crime in the sphere of occupational health has benefited in the past.



[ read more ]
 

Asbestos and the World Trade Organization

The Appellate Body stated that the French ban is compatible with WTO rules (March 2001).
The WTO Panel released its report on 18 September 2000.

The TUTB alerted trade unions to the importance of this case, which could have undermined years of struggle to get asbestos recognized for the danger it is, protect the health of workers exposed to it, compensate those it has damaged, and get it outlawed throughout Europe.

The TUTB asked Sam Zia-Zarifi and Mary Footer of the Erasmus University in Rotterdam to analyse the row over asbestos between Canada and France in the World Trade Organization. Their report will help inform the debate on the problems of expanding the WTO's reach into other areas, especially labour/social policy. The issues raised by this dispute - the precautionary principle, health risk assessments, the choice of experts on the panel, the standing of civil society, especially the unions, to put over their views on the marketing of products mainly affecting workers' health - are indicative of the forthcoming debates and the bounds which need setting to the sphere of activity of organizations like the WTO.

Other comments on the WTO asbestos dispute:

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Other documents
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Useful links

 

Contact person: Laurent Vogel

 

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Last updated: 14/03/2011
 
 

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