SPAIN: A campaign to detect asbestos-related diseases in older workers

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At the end of October the federation of beneficiaries and pensioners of the CCOO trade union organization introduced the campaign on “Mastering asbestos to grow older more actively”. This campaign concerns all those who have worked in contact with asbestos, even occasionally. The aim is not merely to inform and “make the invisible visible”, but also to identify the diseases related to exposure to this material, because these are very often treated as common risks. The aim is therefore to achieve real risk prevention in enterprises and include a change in the type of risk at the time of retirement, which would improve the financial benefits of the insured.

According to the latest (2014) data concerning asbestos in Andalusia, 42,000 people were undergoing treatment and 2,135 were received in health watch programmes. The CCOO recommends that people who are certain they have worked in contact with asbestos, or who fear they may have done so, consult a doctor in a healthcare centre and ask to be included in the Health Programme for workers exposed to asbestos. This application should be supported by any documentary evidence which proves contact with the material.

Asbestos is considered carcinogenic and its use has been banned in Spain since 2002. However, it was widely used for years for its insulating, mechanical, chemical and thermal properties, and because of its low cost. Almost all sectors of activity used it, and it was also (and still is) present in numerous everyday environments. It can cause serious diseases. Some of them may appear a long time after exposure, sometimes even 30 to 50 years later. That is why only 2% of cases are recognized as occupational diseases. 

María José López, occupational health manager in the Granada CCOO, says that lung cancer in workers exposed to asbestos can be up to seven times more frequent than for the population in general, and up to 12 times more in the case of workers who smoke. Another type of cancer, pleural mesothelioma, is due, in 75% of cases, to exposure to asbestos in the workplace. The trade union representative also mentions the risk for workers’ close relations: Cases have already been noted of women who contracted a cancer due to having been in contact with the work clothes of their husbands. Moreover, the dispersion of asbestos in the air entails serious risks for the health of the population in general. So this is no longer merely an occupational health issue; it is becoming a public health concern.

To find out more (Spanish)

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