Asbestos is a cause of disease and is responsible for the deaths of many people. The BGs, the institutions for statutory accident insurance and prevention, drew attention to this fact on the occasion of the European asbestos campaign launched by the European Commission on 1 September 2006. In Germany alone, 1,540 people died last year of disease attributable to asbestos. According to the International Labour Organization, asbestos may claim up to 100,000 lives worldwide each year. "We are a long way from being able to consign the subject of asbestos to history," says Dr. Joachim Breuer, General Manager of the Federation of Institutions for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention (HVBG). The BGs therefore welcome both the EU's campaign, and the initiative announced by the EU and ILO for a worldwide asbestos ban.
Asbestos has been banned throughout Europe since 2005. The mineral continues to be relevant to occupational health and safety, however, for example in the context of redevelopment. By dedicating a campaign to the issue, the EU therefore wishes to survey the extent to which companies are implementing the ban and the safety regulations of the EU Asbestos Directive. The OH&S authorities in the Member States will therefore conduct random checks in companies to ascertain for example whether the necessary protective equipment is provided, and will encourage the safe handling of asbestos by means of publicity measures.
"In Germany, we reached a high level of safety some time ago," says Breuer. Asbestos has been banned there since 1993. However, twenty to thirty years may pass before an asbestos-induced disease becomes apparent. The BGs therefore do not expect cases of illness to peak until 2010 to 2015. "This makes preventive care and early detection all the more important," says Breuer. For this reason, the ZAs, the central body responsible for monitoring employees exposed to an asbestos dust hazard, regularly examines employees who have had such contact. The ZAs was set up by the BGs as long ago as 1972. Employees involved in asbestos remediation work are also registered by the ZAs.
The BGs support initiatives for a worldwide asbestos ban, for example within the International Social Security Association. "Progress in this area is long overdue," says Breuer. Over 2 million tons of asbestos continue to be produced each year. "The longer the international community remains reluctant to abandon this product, the more devastating the human and economic consequences will be." In Germany, for example, the statutory accident insurance institutions spend over 300 million euro each year on treatment and compensation for employees who are victims of asbestos. In other industrial countries, the level of compensation is now into the billions. Breuer: "The asbestos disaster should serve as a warning to other countries."
Technical information (in German) from the BG Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on the subject of asbestos at the workplace (exposure, prevention, occupational disease): www.dguv.de/bgia, webcode d4950.