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French court orders Saint-Gobain to pay compensation to Oise workers

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12 June, 2019The labour court of Compiegne, France issued a verdict on 3 June ordering Saint-Gobain to compensate 130 employees of its specialized glass manufacturing and processing factory in Thourotte in the department of Oise.

According to the court verdict, the company must pay compensation of 20,000 euro to each worker for "psychological harm" resulting from their exposure to asbestos in previous years.

According to media reports, the council of labour judges ruled that the current and former employees were "substantially exposed to the inhalation of asbestos fibres" under conditions "subsequent to a breach of the contractual obligation of safety provoked by their employer "and that they suffered “harm” that "should be repaired".

Workers were represented in court by lawyer Elisabeth Leroux, who commented that,

"This is a very good decision, the employees have been exposed to asbestos, they are now undergoing increased medical monitoring which provokes anxiety, they see their co-workers dying ... It's a big satisfaction to obtain compensation for this harm."

The court verdict in favour of the workers sets a new precedent since the decision by the French Supreme Court dated to 5 April of extension of damage coverage to all workers in contact with asbestos in France. According to this decision, French workers exposed to asbestos can claim for damage caused by anxiety related to the consequences of their asbestos exposure regardless of where they worked, if they can prove they were exposed to and suffer from ‘anxiety damage’.

Since 2010, the Supreme Court has restricted this mechanism only to employees included in the lists entitling them to pre-retirement due to asbestos exposure, namely workers employed in the processing of asbestos or shipbuilding. Now since April 2019 the court has opened the ‘anxiety damage’ procedure to all workers who were in contact with asbestos.

Saint-Gobain has 30 days since the announcement of the verdict to appeal the decision of the court.

Asbestos has been banned in France since 1 January 1997. In 2014, the French High Council for Public Health estimated that asbestos could still kill between 68,000 and 100,000 people in France between 2009 and 2050.

At the global level, based on ILO estimates, some 2.3 million workers die annually from occupational causes, including some 736,000 cancer deaths.

Brian Kohler, IndustriALL director for health, safety and sustainability, commented,

“Estimates of the percentage of occupational cancer that is asbestos-related vary widely. Asbestos diseases are generally underestimated due to frequent misdiagnosis and even concealment. We believe that the true number could be 150,000 per year or even much higher.  In addition, there are large numbers of deaths from lung diseases other than cancer, that are caused by asbestos. We expect that Saint-Gobain takes this court decision seriously and supports all of their workers who were exposed to asbestos, and will organize proper compensation for them, respecting the court’s decision.”