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A recent series of court rulings have found the state responsible for the health damage caused to construction workers who were exposed to asbestos dust. In its ruling last month on one of the damages suits filed by former construction workers and their relatives, the Osaka High Court determined that the government was able — by 1975 at the latest — to recognize the concrete risk of construction workers contracting illnesses linked to asbestos and accused the state of failing to exercise its regulatory power to protect their health, such as requiring them to wear masks to prevent them from inhaling asbestos fibers.

It appears the judiciary decision on the issue has been established — given that the government has been held liable for the health damage in 10 rulings by district and high courts. Still, the government continues to dispute its responsibility. It rejected a high court recommendation for a settlement in one of the rulings earlier this year, and appealed the Osaka High Court ruling last month to the Supreme Court. The government needs to realize that time is running short for the plaintiffs, many of whom are aging and ailing, and explore ways for settling the cases out of court, such as by creating a joint fund with construction materials makers and other parties to provide relief for the victims.

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