The long struggle of a coal miner

The long struggle of a coal miner
A report on a collective check-up of retired miners

by IIDA Katsuyasu
Tokyo Eastern OSHC

Pneumoconiosis in coal miners is one of the oldest and most serious occupational diseases in Japan. The victims of this disease, however, tend to be neglected or marginalized despite the fact that the disease is easily diagnosed and victims eligible for compensation.

Let me introduce a retired coal miner who struggled for his former coworkers suffering from this incurable disease.

Abe Ieji worked at Johban coal field, located between Ibaragi and Fukushima Prefectures for 27 years. In 1972 when the energy revolution forced all the Johban coal mines to close, he went to Tokyo as a seasonal worker in tunnel construction. Around that time he had shortness of breath, lingering phlegm and a cough. In 1980 he happened to visit a small hospital where Dr.Hirano, organizing director of the Tokyo Tobu (Eastern) Occupational Safety and Health Center (TTOSHC), was working. Dr. Hirano diagnosed him to be suffering from pneumoconiosis, and explained to him about its relation to his job history. This was the first time that he got an insight into his suffering. He also knew his former co-workers were suffering from the same symptoms without receiving adequate medical care. Encouraged by his encounter with Dr. Hirano, Abe went back to his home town and urged them to visit Dr. Hirano and receive a regular medical check-up. Initially about 10 people began to visit Dr. Hirano. Abe continued tenaciously to encourage the former coal miners around the abandoned coal field to undergo a medical examination.

In December 1985, the TTOSHC, and a group of lawyers filing legal suits for pneumoconiosis sufferers, set up a committee to carry out pneumoconiosis tests on former Johban coal miners in order to further their efforts at relieving the victimized miners. This project revealed that all of 55 participants had pneumoconiosis, and the committee helped them apply for classification and compensation.

This screening project has been conducted annually since then. Up to this 1,000 workers have participated, with 250 of them officially certified to be suffering from work-related pneumoconiosis.

In addition, Abe devoted himself to forming a permanent organization to help the victims assist each other and claim their rights. His organization evolved to form the Johban Coal field Kita-Ibaragi branch of the Nationwide Alliance of Pneumoconiosis Victims.

Abe died in February 1992, but his work on behalf of these victims of the Japanese coal industry is continued by his organization, and by another group which was founded nearbyƒ€inspired by the effectiveness of Abe's activities.

In March 1996, after many years of litigation, the Johban Coal field Kita-Ibaragi branch successfully settled its claims for compensation from the company which had run the coal mines.

In Japan, several legal actions--including this case--have been filed against coal mining companies claiming that they neglected their duty to take appropriate measures to protect their employees from dust pollution. The plaintiffs are, however, facing a lot of problems among them the causal relationship of lung cancer with dust exposure.

We wish to share our experience with people overseas who are interested in these issues. Our address is:
1-33-17, Kameido, Koto-ku, Tokyo 136.
Phone +81-3-3683-9765
Fax +81-3-3683-9766


Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC)
Z Bldg. 5F, 7-10-1 Kameido, Koto-ku, Tokyo 136-0071, Japan
FAX: 81-3-3636-3881