The International Commission on Occupational Health, or ICOH, is a non-governmental professional society formed with the intention of fostering scientific progress, knowledge, and the development of occupational health and safety in every aspect. It was founded in 1906 in Milan as a permanent commission. Today, the ICOH is recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization with a membership comprised of 2,000 professionals from 93 countries. The most recognizable efforts of the ICOH are the Triennial World Congresses on Occupational Health.
The ICOH regularly participates in activities directed at the global ban of asbestos. The Asbestos Ban is among one of the society’s main priorities. ICOH, utilizing official bodies and individual members, has taken action at all levels of the workplace, including national and global, as a part of their efforts.
Asbestos Ban Seminar
The ICOH participated in a seminar in 2001 held at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine concerning the banning of asbestos worldwide. Speakers at this seminar concluded that medical dangers surrounding asbestos have been apparent for quite some time, including a German ban as early as 1938. The ICOH states that “following the WTO judgment on the French ban on asbestos, there is no reason, based on free trade, why the use of asbestos should continue.” The ICOH also states “substitutes are available for all significant applications of asbestos.” This same seminar also addressed the responsibility of one country to another as far as the importing and exporting of asbestos are concerned.
The ICOH pushes for companies to provide more accurate scientific and medical information concerning this substance, urging solidarity among various organizations concerned with healthy work. The ICOH website concludes the seminar’s notes by claiming, “Companies that have made their profits from the use of asbestos, at the expense of the health of workers, must expect to pay the consequences.”
The ICOH and Asbestos
Asbestos is a known human carcinogen that is the leading cause of the cancer mesothelioma. Mesothelioma has no known cure, with between 2,000 and 3,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States yearly. It is predominantly an occupational disease, as most of those diagnosed worked in industries such as chemical and power plants, the automobile industry, mining, ship yards, and other related fields. These workers are not the only ones affected, as asbestos fibers easily attached to the hair and clothes of these professionals, posing a danger to family and loved ones.
Organizations such as this one are essential to the further education of asbestos concerns. The ICOH maintains working relationships with several other organizations with similar aims, including the ILO, WHO, UNEP, and ISSA. The ICOH creates a network of people concerned with issues like asbestos exposure in the workplace and how that exposure can lead to diseases such as mesothelioma, allowing these individuals to come together to develop better solutions.
Current actions by the ICOH to ban asbestos and prevent diseases caused by asbestos exposure include establishing the “ICOH Working Group on the Elimination of Asbestos Related Diseases”. During the 2009-2012 triennium this group’s focus involves the examination of existing bans and regulations as a basis for developing specific recommendations concerning actions and guidelines. This group, as well as other members of the ICOH, has been instrumental in producing the “Helsinki Criteria for Diagnosis and Attribution of Asbestos Related Diseases.” This document has been largely incorporated into the everyday practices of diagnosing, recognition, and compensation surrounding asbestos related diseases. This document has also been used in courtroom defense of those with diseases related to asbestos exposure.