Finger joint deformity found among school kitchen workers

Finger joint deformity found among school kitchen workers

In Japan public school children are provided with school lunches. Recently many people working in school kitchens have been found to be suffering from a finger-joint deforming illness. Currently, the victims who fulfill the criteria necessary to be awarded compensation are covered by local government run worker accident insurance.

This disease has been established as a labor-induced one after a campaign initiated by a labor union, the All Japan Prefectural and Municipal Workers' Union, which organizes the majority of school kitchen workers.

The story began in 1983 when a worker complained to the labor union about painful deformities in her finger-joints, and suggested a relationship with her kitchen work. Stimulated by the seriousness of her symptoms, the union conducted a nationwide survey of their members with similar symptoms, and sought to determine the extent and magnitude of the problem. The study revealed that out of 80,000 such workers, approximately 5,000 were suffering from an identical illness, with it's prevalence among kitchen workers five times greater that for office workers. Convinced that the disease resulted from their workload, the union decided to start a nationwide campaign to help the victims. By 1994, 40% of about 160 applicants for compensation were certified as eligible for labor accident insurance benefits.

Oddly enough, patients with severe symptoms have not been certified as eligible for compensation, while other victims with less severe suffering have been recognized a eligible for such. This seems to be due to the certifying policy adopted by the authorities concerned, which determines eligibility exclusively on whether the workload of the victims had been overwhelmingly great in comparison with that of their coworkers, independently of the statistical correlation evidenced by epidemiologists. The labor union is, therefore, striving to revise the unfair certification criteria in order to get relief for more victims.

Deformity of the finger-joints is induced by handling heavy materials or an excessive workload for the fingers. It should be noted, therefore, that besides public sector kitchen workers, many non-unionized men and women with any heavy workload for their fingers are suffering from similar disorders. Victims of the disease have been found among workers using needles, and in paper making and metal work industries. The health hazards involved in working in these industries must be brought to light and relieved.

JOSHRC NEWSLETTER No.10 (July, 1997)

Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC)
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