OSAKA - Labor ministry investigators searched the Osaka head office of printing firm Sanyo-CYP Co. on Tuesday on suspicion it neglected its duty to take proper care of its workers’ health, after 17 developed bile duct cancer, eight of whom died.
The investigators from the Osaka Labor Bureau of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare searched the office on suspicion the company violated the industrial safety and health law, which requires employers to ensure the safety and health of workers in workplaces.
The workers at Sanyo-CYP were exposed to chemicals in the process of washing printing machines.
The bureau said it plans to file a report on the printing company and its senior officials with prosecutors.
In Tokyo, labor minister Norihisa Tamura said his ministry will establish the Sanyo-CYP case as a criminal one and also file an investigative report with prosecutors.
In Japan, not only police but a number of government organizations, including the Japan Coast Guard, the Self-Defense Forces and the health ministry, are authorized to investigate matters in areas of their expertise and file investigative reports with prosecutors.
Toyonobu Nouchi, a 34-year-old former worker of Sanyo CYP who has been hospitalized with bile duct cancer, temporarily left the hospital Tuesday to watch the ministry investigators search the company.
“The president and executives appear to be trying to only protect themselves,” Nouchi told reporters, adding that he never received any apology from the company.
“It is not surprising that the company is investigated. . . . Seeing the company building reminded me of my colleagues who have died,” he said.
Sanyo-CYP has acknowledged it failed to appoint either an industrial physician or a safety and health supervisor as required by law.
Last May, a local labor standards inspection office of the ministry urged the printing firm to take corrective measures.
The ministry’s study panel, which looked into the Sanyo-CYP case, released a report on March 14 suggesting an organic compound called 1,2-dichloropropane, which was in the machine-cleaning agent, might have caused the bile duct cancer.
In the report, the panel called for designating 16 of the 17 workers as victims of work-related accidents eligible to receive compensation.
Last Wednesday, the local labor standards and inspection office in Osaka recognized the 16 as victims of work-related accidents.
Sanyo-CYP told a news conference on Thursday that it was unaware it was required to appoint an industrial physician.
The printing company also said it had no knowledge of any causal relationship between the workers’ suffering from bile duct cancer and the chemical substance.
The cancer case came to light around March 2012 when relatives of deceased victims at Sanyo-CYP filed for workers’ compensation.
The health ministry subsequently began looking into about 560 printing firms across the nation last June.
So far, printing firm workers in Osaka, Miyagi, Tokyo, Shizuoka and Ishikawa prefectures have been confirmed to have contracted bile duct cancer.
A total of 64 people have so far filed for workers’ compensation.