Madrid/Almería/Córdoba, (EFE) latest data from the National Silicosis Institute (INS).
“The situation in the manufacture of silica agglomerates is maintained, with 12 new cases, a high number taking into account the total number of workers,” says the report, which also highlights the new rise in marble factories, with 32 new diagnoses, which which raises the weight of these activities to 19% of the total cases compared to 5% a decade ago.
Both works have been in focus this week after the sentence that condemns the president of the Cosentino group, Francisco Martínez Cosentino, to six months in prison for crimes of serious injuries in cases of people affected by silicosis for not clearly warning of the danger to health that could mean tampering with your kitchen countertops.
The INS report also states that those affected by this serious lung disease in these sectors are the youngest -48.2 years old on average in the silica agglomerates- and those who have been less exposed to the risk of becoming ill -13 .8 years on average- the shortest of all the sectors studied.
serious system errors
The numbers of those affected in these sectors have not stopped growing in the last decade. In 2008, the INS identified a case; in 2011 there were already 14, and in 2019, 19; and many of the diagnoses may be left out, experts warn.
Thus, a disease historically associated with mining “explodes” quickly in this activity where it wreaks havoc with less exposure time without the necessary preventive measures and equipment, as occurred in the handling of materials at Cosentino.
“We have been denouncing this situation for many years,” the CCOO’s confederal secretary for Occupational Health and Environmental Sustainability, Mariano Sanz, points out to Efe, who harshly criticizes the company’s actions.
“They were aware and they hid it,” adds Sanz, who believes that the ruling indicates “serious errors” in the system, starting with the irresponsibility of the employer, the lack of an alarm signal from the health field with so many cases in very specific areas of Andalusia -where Cosentino has its headquarters- going through the need for stronger inspection work.
From the Ministry of Labor they recall that there are specific campaigns since 2010 for companies dedicated to the design and cutting of these compacts with crystalline silica and that, although the sanctions imposed cannot be detailed, “it can be confirmed that actions have been carried out in the company for different reasons, including occupational health and safety.
A legal before and after
“This sentence can mark a before and after, since gross negligence to the detriment of workers leads to criminal responsibilities,” explains the doctor in Law and director of the Official Master’s Degree in Law and Legal Practice at the International University of Valencia, Rafael, to EFE. Pardo Gabaldon.
“It is based on the fact that they acted opaquely, without reporting the risks to workers, without adopting preventive measures knowing that they were needed (…) there was a factual recognition,” adds Pardo Gabaldón.
“The sentence leaves a bittersweet taste, it is the first time that he is going to go to jail for failing to comply with the obligation to protect workers and we are satisfied with that,” explains the Secretary of Occupational Health and Environment of UGT FICA, Pilar Ituero, which affects the difficulty of “compensating” for such a serious illness.
“You cannot allow workers to lose their lives and nothing happens (…) that companies see that a breach has criminal consequences,” adds Ituero. One in five new cases of silicosis comes from the marble sector.
Along the same lines, the president of the Association of People Harmed by Silicosis of Andalusia, Francisco Torrico, values the ruling to EFE, who believes that it “sets a precedent” and opens a new path for hundreds of those affected.
More prevention and inspection work
All the sources consulted also agree on the need to improve occupational risk prevention in Spain.
“You need to think that not everything is valid at work, that health is priceless and that not everything can be solved with a checkbook,” argues Ituero, who calls for more training and more awareness campaigns.
Pardo Galbán also points to the need to have more control mechanisms and reinforce the Inspection with more resources.
“Risk prevention has been outsourced in many companies and that has worsened its quality,” recalls Sanz, who emphasizes that the solution involves a good identification and prevention of the risks that workers face.
“There was never any warning of the danger of handling this material,” laments Torrico, who criticizes that the president of Cosentino did not have the dignity to address the association to apologize to those affected. EFE