European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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Occupational diseases

Getting recognition of occupational diseases caused by asbestos is still an obstacle course in the European Union (EU). This social injustice is made worse by the lack of harmonized criteria for the recognition of occupational diseases. Wide differences remain between EU countries over the recognition of mesothelioma (pleural or peritoneal cancer). The non-recognition of asbestos-related lung cancer is probably even greater. The data on asbestosis (inflammation of the lungs) also point to wide disparities. Compared to an average 30 cases of asbestosis per million workers recognized as occupational diseases in the EU, there is 1 case per million in Portugal, 28 in the United Kingdom, 30 in France, 59 in Germany and 96 in Belgium.

While improved recognition of asbestos-related diseases in occupational disease compensation systems is vital, there is also a good case to be made for establishing specific funds to provide better compensation for all victims (including self-employed workers, family members who have suffered exposure in the home, etc.). The track record of funds established in France and the Netherlands could be a model for other countries.

Along with recognition, available treatments for occupational diseases must be improved. Legal action against those immediately responsible for exposing workers to asbestos is especially important, as occupational disease compensation schemes only provide relatively small lump-sum compensation amounts compared to the full compensation available where fault is proved. On the political front, it is time that employers who damage their workers’ health stopped being let-off virtually scot-free.