Asbestos Test Case against Japan Railways 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



On January 29, 2007, Mai Omae, the grieving daughter of mesothelioma victim Susumu Kato, made legal history in Japan when she brought the country's first asbestos case against the Japan National Railway (presently Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency/JRTT) for her father's occupational death.

 Mai Omae holding a handbill: "My dad was killed by asbestos because he worked at the NR Ofuna factory for 24 years. Give me back my DAD!"

Mr. Kato, who worked as an electrician at Ofuna Factory, Kanagama prefecture from 1953-1987, inspected and repaired railway carriages during which he was exposed to asbestos-containing fire-proofing products. No warnings were given or protection provided.

In July 2004, Mr. Kato was hospitalized for chest pain; he was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in September 2004. Through sheer determination he was able to lead his daughter Mai down the aisle when she married on November 6, despite the pain he was in. He died less than a month later. Workers compensation was approved for Mr. Kato on January 20, 2005, 6 weeks after he died. The JNR Settlement Corporation, representing the JRTT, remained unresponsive to requests made by the family and NGOs working with the family.

Despite the fact that Mr. Kato resigned from the trade union in 1987 when he left his job with the National Railway company, since reconstituted as the JRTT,1 the NRU Kanagawa Area Headquarters of Japan's National Railway Workers' Union (NRU) has been supportive of Mai's struggle. The NRU hopes that the publicity generated by this case will embolden other union members with asbestos-related conditions to come forward. At a press conference held in January 2007, Mai spoke of her determination to obtain justice for her father and warned 100,000 other ex-National Railway workers of their asbestos exposure. Mai and her supporters are hoping to launch an international solidarity movement for all former railway personnel who have contracted occupational asbestos-related diseases. For more information on this please contact: Rie Monika Ikeda, Kanagawa Occupational Safety and Health Center, by email at:

February 8, 2007


1 Although the Shipbuilding and Engineering Union (SEU, Japan) supports claims brought by retired workers, most Japanese trade unions do not; the NRU's support of this claim is exceptional.



       Home   |    Site Info   |    Site Map   |    About   |    Top↑