FRIDAY 28TH APRIL 2006
INTERNATIONAL WORKERS MEMORIAL DAY
THE BUILDING AND WOODWORKERS INTERNATIONAL
SAYS FIGHT FOR A GLOBAL BAN
ON ASBESTOS IN 2006 !!!
More Deaths from Mesotheliomas
than from Falls in Construction
At the shocking world wide figure of 100, 000
people each year, deaths from asbestos related diseases have now
outstripped deaths from industrial accidents in some countries.
Many of those affected today worked in the building trades. The
BWI coordinates a Global Campaign to get asbestos banned and to
prevent workers being exposed to it where it already exists in buildings
all over the world.
The BWI Campaign
Popularise the asbestos campaign - Use April 28th
Each year on the 28th April trade unions around the world organise
events to observe International Workers Memorial Day. The purpose
is to highlight the preventable nature of workplace accidents and
ill health, and to promote campaigns and union organisation to improve
health and safety at work. It is also a day to remember all those
who have died because of their job. Our slogan is “Remember
the dead and fight for the living”.
This is our annual opportunity to promote prevention and to highlight
the positive contribution to be made by trade unions, particularly
through joint Health and Safety Committees. It’s also an appropriate
date to insist that employers comply with Safety Health and Environment
legislation and to create strong social rejection towards negligent
behaviour by employers that leads to people being killed or hurt.
Make asbestos hazards visible on the 28th
Fatal accidents are the very tip of the iceberg, the most visible
and dramatic impact of poor working conditions. In fact many more
workers die from work related ill health, However we know that in
most countries this is socially invisible, and that the workplace
origen of the disease is not recognised, recorded or compensated.
Asbestos related illness is a clear example of this problem.
The news on the 28th
Organise a press conference, give victims and their families a platform.
The news for the press would be that the union convening the press
conference will have written to the authorities to demand a ban
on all further use of asbestos and immediate implementation of measures
to avoid exposure to deadly asbestos dust. Of course there may be
many other activities on the 28th aside from press conferences and
letter writing that could help to get the point across: for example,
demonstrations and meetings as well as workplace based activities
such as inspection days or training sessions.
Public Opinion – People Power
Consumer boycotts – schools, hospitals, housing all riddled
with asbestos. Through our campaigns and media coverage we can create
strong social pressure to ban further use and to control exposure
to existing asbestos.
Where national tripartite committees on health and safety are in
place, trade unions can raise demands for national legislation and
policy on asbestos and protecting workers and communities from exposure.
Collective Bargaining and worker representation
Apart from pressure at institutional level, to improve legislation
and policy on asbestos, we encourage negotiation of agreements with
companies so they do not use asbestos containing products. Pressure
can be applied to make such agreements for public works and contracts.
Above all, if the legislation is to have any practical application,
there must be structures in the workplace to ensure that workers
are protected from exposure to asbestos. This includes: a written
company policy and allocation of resources to implement the policy;
a Joint Safety Committee, Trade Union Safety Representatives; information
and training for workers; the right to refuse dangerous work and
the right to stop the job if there is good reason to believe that
workers may be exposed to asbestos.
Strong unions mean safe jobs
Asbestos is a killer, along with many other serious health and safety
hazards on building sites all over the world. The biggest threat
to building workers’ health is the flexible, informal employment
practices and the resulting low trade union density in the sector.
Workers solidarity is the best guarantee of decent working conditions.
In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder noted that slaves working
in the asbestos mines died young of lung disease. In 2006, and more
than a century after the first legislation on its use at work, we
are still using asbestos despite all the scientific evidence that
demonstrates its cancer causing potential.
The Hazard – asbestos kills
Breathing air containing asbestos dust causes fatal lung diseases.
There is usually a long delay between exposure to asbestos dust
and the onset of the disease, this can be between 10 and 50 years.
The more you are exposed to asbestos, the more chance you will get
sick later on. If you smoke, your chances of lung cancer from asbestos
exposure are much higher compared with a worker who does not smoke.
Asbestos fibres are so small and fine that you cannot see them.
They are 2,000 times thinner than a human hair and are needle like
in shape. When inhaled, those fibres which cannot be coughed up
or breathed out can become deeply lodged in the lungs where they
can cause irreparable scarring which continues to grow, even though
there is no further exposure to asbestos.
Pleural Thickening In pleural
thickening, the lung walls thicken because of the scarring
produced by the asbestos fibres . This is seen on x ray examination,
or CT scan of the thorax. Since the fibres are lodged in the
lining of the lung, there is a slow, continual process of
replacement of healthy tissue into fibrous or scar tissue.
Extensive thickening causes severe shortness of breath. It
may be described as on one side of the lungs, on both sides
(bilateral) or it can be described as widespread (diffuse).
This fibrosis places people at higher risk of developing other
more serious diseases.
Pleural Plaques In the case
of pleural plaques, these are dense bands of scar tissue,
different from pleural thickening, and also visible on x-ray
or CT scan. Plaques are usually seen on both sides of the
lung. The cause of the scarring is the same as in the case
of pleural thickening. People with pleural plaques may not
have any disability, but the person may go on to develop other
asbestos related diseases, particularly lung cancer.
Asbestosis Is a disabling
and ultimately fatal scarring of the lungs causing severe
breathlessness and chest pains and general weakness. This
disease is most common among workers who have had regular
and high exposure to fibres, for example laggers, or those
working in the manufacture of asbestos products. However,
asbestosis does affect people who have only been exposed for
short periods, and relatives of asbestos workers have developed
asbestosis from fibres brought home on work clothes.
Lung cancer A painful and
fatal disease. Evidence for asbestos related lung cancer has
been clear since the 1930s and 1940s. Lung cancer can be caused
by even low levels of exposure to asbestos.
Mesothelioma A rapid and painful
cancer of the lining around the lungs (the pleura) and the
abdomen (peritoneum). This form of cancer is only caused by
asbestos, and was only recognised in the 1960s. These cancers
have no relation to smoking. People with mesothelioma rarely
live longer than 12 to 18 months after diagnosis.
Other types of cancer There
is also evidence of cancer of the larynx, and of gastro intestinal
cancers (stomach, bowel)caused by asbestos exposure.
Who is at risk?
Many of today’s asbestos
victims worked in building trades. They were insulators, plumbers
, carpenters, joiners, pipefitters, shopfitters, electricians, sheet
metal workers and demolition workers.
However, asbestos is still widely
used in new construction materials, mainly in asbestos cement roofing
and pipes. The breaking, cutting, sawing, drilling and sanding of
asbestos cement releases asbestos fibres, and presents a very serious
health hazard. 90% of all chrysotile asbestos is used in asbestos
Construction workers are still exposed to asbestos in buildings
during maintenance, renovation and demolition work. Millions of
tonnes of asbestos were used in buildings in the past. Much of this
asbestos is still there and you cannot easily identify it from its
appearance. Workers are exposed to this asbestos and breathe it
in without realising it. It may be only small quantities, but there
are no safe levels of exposure. Asbestos is found in factories and
warehouses; public buildings such as hospitals, government buildings,
schools and libraries; and it is found in homes all over the world.
• As a spray coating on steel work, concrete walls and
ceilings, for fire protection and insulation
• As insulation lagging on pipe work, ducts and boilers.
• As asbestos insulating board in partition walls, fire
doors, ceiling tiles.
• As asbestos cement products such as roofs, walls, tiles,
water tanks, gutters, pipes and in decorative plaster finishes.
Any asbestos material in buildings should be identified before
work begins, but often sites are not checked for asbestos. If a
suspect material is found, then it should be checked. All suspect
material should be treated as if it contained asbestos.
Precarious contractual conditions and flexible employment practices
in the construction industry undermine prevention measures and safe
systems of work that should be in place. Information, training and
trade union organising on health and safety saves lives.
ILO Convention 162
This requires employers to
• prevent or control the release of asbestos dust into
the air, to ensure that the exposure limits or other exposure
criteria are complied with and also to reduce exposure to as low
a level as is reasonably practicable.
• provide, maintain and replace, as necessary, at no cost
to the workers, adequate respiratory protective equipment and
special protective clothing. Respiratory protective equipment
shall be used only as a supplementary, temporary, emergency or
exceptional measure and not as an alternative to technical control.
• be responsible for the establishment and implementation
of practical measures for the prevention and control of the exposure
of the workers he employs to asbestos and for their protection
against the hazards due to asbestos.
• make a written work plan to provide all necessary protection
to the workers and
• limit the release of asbestos dust into the air; The workers
or their representatives shall be consulted on the work plan.
On protective clothing and facilities
• Where workers' personal clothing may become contaminated
with asbestos dust, the employer in consultation with the workers'
representatives, shall provide appropriate work clothing, which
shall not be worn outside the workplace. National laws or regulations
shall prohibit the taking home of work clothing and special protective
clothing and of personal protective equipment. The employer shall
be responsible for the cleaning, maintenance and storage of work
clothing, special protective clothing and personal protective
• The employer shall provide facilities for workers exposed
to asbestos to wash, take a bath or shower at the workplace, as
• It also imposes duties to carry our workplace monitoring
and surveillance of workers’ health, rights to information
and access to medical records.
• Information for workers, it requires employers to
• Promote dissemination of information and the education
of all concerned with regard to health hazards due to exposure
to asbestos and to methods of prevention and control.
• Provide written policies and procedures on measures for
the education and periodic training of workers on asbestos hazards
and methods of prevention and control.
• The employer shall ensure that all workers exposed or
likely to be exposed to asbestos are informed about the health
hazards related to their work, instructed in preventive measures
and correct work practices and receive continuing training in
Campaign demands from the Building and Woodworkers International
• Prohibition of the use of all asbestos containing materials.
• Ratification and practical application of ILO Convention
162 and the accompanying Recommendation 172.
• That the ILO calls for a global ban of all use of asbestos.
Legislation governing the handling of asbestos in the workplace
in order to:
• focus on the groups of workers now considered to be most
at risk. That is, those workers involved in removal of asbestos,
in demolition, or in renovation and maintenance work in asbestos-containing
buildings, during which exposure to asbestos is likely to occur.
• ensure proper risk assessment;
• take into consideration different information and training
needs of workers depending on the type of exposure involved;
• emphasise the prevention or minimisation of exposure.
Safe systems of work to include the following:
• identification of a material presumed to contain asbestos
must be carried out prior to any demolition, reconstruction or
• assess the likely exposure and set out steps to prevent
or reduce this to the lowest level practicable;
• firms must provide evidence of their competence in the
field of demolition and/or the removal of material containing
• the employer is required to provide an adequate training
programme for all workers who handle, or are liable to handle,
products or materials containing asbestos.
• demarcation of work posts
• prohibited access for workers who are not involved,
• the need for separate storage places,
• specific hygiene measures, the wearing of appropriate
working and protective clothing.
Monitoring and health surveillance
• continuous review of the risks associated with commonly
• the obligation for the employer to notify the competent
authority of the types and quantities of asbestos used and the
activities and processes involved in activities in which workers
are or may be exposed to dust arising from asbestos or materials
• the right for workers and/or their representatives to
have access to the documents which are the subject of the notification
• access for workers and their representatives to the results
of measurements and the obligation for the employer to inform
the workers concerned and their representatives if limit values
• regular monitoring of the health of the workers exposed
and the obligation to keep an exposure register to which the doctors/authorities
responsible for medical surveillance and the workers concerned
have access to their own files.
International Trade Union Campaign on Asbestos
We encourage the following measures be undertaken by trade unions:
• Asbestos ban: Trade unions should lobby their national
governments to introduce a ban on asbestos, as part of an international
initiative to ban asbestos throughout the world.
• Protection of workers: Trade unions should lobby their
governments to ratify, effectively apply and enforce ILO Convention
162 as a minimum standard to protect workers who may be exposed
to asbestos through their work. Trade unions should ensure that
the best protection methods to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres
is available to workers who have to remove asbestos.
• Awareness raising: Trade unions should develop and maintain
a broad-based international campaign to educate workers, the union
movement and the public about the risks of exposure to asbestos
fibres and the measures to be taken to prevent ill-health and
to secure a global ban on asbestos;
• Alternatives: Trade unions should seek the replacement
of asbestos with alternative substances that are less harmful
to human health and the environment. Research should be promoted
into technology to develop alternative substances to asbestos
where that technology does not currently exist.
• Information exchange: Trade unions in countries that
manufacture and use asbestos substitutes should distribute technical
information on the substitutes to sister unions in countries where
those substitutes are not currently manufactured and used.
• Just Transition: Where workers may be displaced because
of the introduction of an asbestos ban, trade unions should lobby
for a Just Transition to protect the income, employment and welfare
of those affected and their communities.
• Legal action: Trade unions should seek through their
legal systems to bring to justice those employers whose negligence
has caused asbestos diseases and environmental damage to the community.
The polluter must pay the remediation costs of any environmental
damage done by their operations.
• Compensation: Trade unions should seek appropriate and
prompt compensation for workers who suffer from asbestos related
• Treatment: Trade unions should campaign to ensure that
the victims of asbestos related disease will have access to appropriate
medical treatment, support services and information.
The BWI calls for action from national governments
and from the International Labour Organisation.
In November 2004, the second Global Asbestos Conference was held
in Tokyo, Japan. The IFBWW was present with a delegation from Japan,
India, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea and Singapore. The following
statement was made jointly from the IFBWW the UITBB and the Christian
Federation of Building and Wood Workers.
The intention of this statement is to put pressure on the International
Labour Organisation to call for a global ban on all use of asbestos.
Since ILO Convention No. 162, concerning safety in the use of asbestos,
and its accompanying Recommendation 172 were drafted twenty years
ago, epidemiological research in developed countries such as Finland,
Italy, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Australia, the UK,
the U.S., has discovered national asbestos disease epidemics. Although
statistical data from developing economies is rare, an estimation
of the incidence of occupational asbestos-related illness can be
made based on the scale of national asbestos consumption. Taking
into account the increase of asbestos use in developing countries,
we believe it is essential that the ILO clarifies it’s position
on asbestos by calling for a global ban on its use.
Much has changed in the twenty years since the ILO’s asbestos
guidelines were introduced. By the mid-1980s when Convention 162
was drafted, only the Scandinavian countries had banned asbestos;
by the beginning of 2006, 40 countries in Europe, the Americas,
the Middle East, the Antipodes and Asia have imposed national asbestos
bans. Major international bodies including the International Programme
on Chemical Safety, the European Union, the Collegium Ramazzini,
the Senior Labour Inspectors Committee, the International Social
Security Association, the World Trade Organization, the Building
and Woodworkers International, the International Metalworkers’
Federation and the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
support the pro-ban position. So do the Governments of: Argentina,
Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic,
Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Germany, Greece,
Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia,
Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal,
Saudi Arabia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland,
United Kingdom and Uruguay and scores of independent scientists.
At the moment the asbestos industry uses the ILO position on “controlled
use” of asbestos as an alibi to continue putting asbestos
cement products into the built environment. Asbestos stakeholders
aggressively lobby international bodies, such as the ILO and the
International Organisation of Employers, national governments, consumers
and the media; their efforts are motivated primarily by a desire
to preserve asbestos sales. As asbestos bans and restrictions have
negatively impacted on exports to industrialized countries, asbestos
salesmen have turned their attention to countries with few, if any,
health and safety restrictions.
Joint Declaration from the International
Building Trade Union Federations, made at the Global Asbestos Congress,
Tokyo, 19-21 November 2004.
The International Federation
of Building and Wood Workers (IFBWW), the World Federation
of Building Workers (WFBW) and the Trades Union International
of Workers in the Building, Wood and Building Materials Industries
(UITBB) are committed to actively promote the global ban of
all forms of asbestos from the construction industry and from
all other industrial sectors, and to promote the effective
regulation of work with in -situ asbestos in demolition, conversion,
renovation and maintenance works by law.
* All forms of asbestos, including chrysotile, are classified
as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for
Research on Cancer and by the International Programme for
* 90% of chrysotile asbestos is used in asbestos cement
* 100, 000 workers die every year from diseases caused
by exposure to asbestos
* It has taken three decades of protracted efforts and
the emergence of suitable alternatives for a comprehensive
ban on the manufacture and use of asbestos and asbestos-containing
products to be adopted in a number of countries. Furthermore
that these countries now permit the handling of in situ
asbestos only during asbestos removal, demolition, renovation
and maintenance work carried out under strictly controlled
The IFBWW, the UITBB and the WFBW call upon the governments
and social partners of all countries to:
* Take immediate steps to ban all mining, manufacture, recycling
and use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos-containing
materials as soon as possible.
* Undertake and support all measures intended to eliminate
asbestos and asbestos- containing products from the economic
cycle and to replace asbestos with less harmful products.
* Make the protection of workers against asbestos exposure
* Ratify and implement the provisions of ILO Convention
162 (1986), Safety in the Use of Asbestos, and to implement
the provisions of its accompanying Recommendation 172 as
a minimum standard not to be fallen below.
* Ensure proper compensation to the victims of asbestos
The IFBWW, the UITBB and the WFBW
further call upon the International Labour Organisation to:
* Adopt a clear health-based position in favour of the
elimination of the use of all forms of asbestos and asbestos
* Continue to encourage Member States to ratify and implement
the provisions of Convention 162 (1986), Safety in the Use
of Asbestos, and to implement the provisions of its accompanying
Recommendation 172, as a minimum standard not to be fallen
* Make an explicit statement clarifying to all member States
that Convention 162 does not provide a justification for,
or endorsement of, the continued use of asbestos.
* Resolve to promote the elimination of the use of all forms
of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials in all Member
* Assist Member States by drawing up national action programmes
for the management, control and elimination of asbestos
from the working and social environment.
The BWI organizes 350 trade unions representing over 12 million
For further information contact the Building and Woodworkers International,
54, Route Des Acacias, CH 1227 Geneva, Switzerland.
Internet web site: www.bwint.org