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A new law could help tens of thousands of sick people – and experts do not go far enough

Peoplewho get sick at work should receive more compensation in the future. This emerges from a draft for a new occupational disease law, which was submitted by the Federal Ministry of Labor a few days ago.

The proposed changes could give tens of thousands of people the opportunity to receive a pension or rehabilitation plan that has not yet been compensated for their occupational illnesses. However, experts criticize that the long-awaited reform of occupational disease law lags far behind proposals, some of which have been available for years. Even with the new law, those affected would still have far too low a chance of compensation.

Every year, around 2,500 people die of occupational diseases in Germany – almost as many people are killed as in traffic. Every year, 75,000 people report an occupational disease and only a good quarter receive compensation. In other countries, such as France, Spain or Denmark, significantly more occupational diseases are recognized.

For years, therefore, stakeholders, unions and the federal states demand an improvement in occupational disease law. Only a few years ago, even the professional associations responsible for compensation made a reform proposal. Last week, the Federal Ministry of Labor sent a draft for a new law to various associations. These may comment on the draft in the coming days before the bill is introduced into the Bundestag.

A new law could help tens of thousands of people

Nine occupational diseases, ranging from severe back pain to severe skin diseases and chronic tendosynovitis, have so far been excluded from compensation if those affected have continued to work, the so-called “omission compulsion”. Many people have therefore decided in the past to prefer to keep working. Without a job and only with the low compensation of the professional associations, they could not have financed their lives.

The Federal Government now writes that this has “undue disadvantages for the insured”. For decades, thousands of people have not been compensated for their cease and desist each year. Over the decades, the employer-financed professional associations have conserved several hundred million euros, probably even several billion euros.

Now this omission compulsion is abolished. And the Berufsgenossenschaften now have to examine for all submitted since 1997 applications for occupational diseases, whether the victims could immediately get compensation. The authorities will therefore need to reconsider on tens of thousands of cases. Those who submitted their application before 1997 can apply for a review themselves. But: “Retrospective benefits,” writes the ministry, “are not provided”. So the lost years do not get back the affected, they get their money only from the time when the new law is passed.

More money for new occupational diseases

Another innovation: New occupational diseases such as lung cancer in welders or Parkinson’s by the contact with pesticides should be placed faster on the list of official occupational diseases. Responsible for the admission of new occupational diseases is a medical expert advisory board. This currently meets four times a year on a voluntary basis and has little staff or budget. It almost always takes years for a new occupational disease to be on the list. The Federal Government has now recognized that “urgent improvements” are needed. The long consultations are “in the interest of people with occupational disease no longer justifiable,” writes the ministry in the statement of reasons. Now there should be a branch office for the committee, located at the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

A big problem for people who get sick in their job, is often the documentary situation: Many diseases such as certain types of cancer show up years or decades later, sometimes there is no longer the old jobs. The professional associations are obliged to determine sufficiently. However, many experts and stakeholders criticize that this is not done thoroughly enough. The Ministry of Labor now wants to get the employers’ liability insurance associations to collect more data and store it in so-called cadastres, for example, to take into account findings from comparable jobs and activities.

Several experts say in conversation with BuzzNazz News that this is not enough. It takes too long, “until more comprehensive cadastre have been created,” writes, for example, on request, for example, the lawyer Anna-Lena Hollo, who last year published a doctoral thesis on the reform of occupational disease law. The experts therefore demand additional proof relief for those affected.

Even Jutta Krellmann from the left-wing parliamentary group in the Bundestag considers this point problematic and calls the reform as half-hearted. Krellmann has been working for years on occupational disease law and is sitting for her party in the Bundestag Committee on Labor and Social Affairs. In addition to facilitating the burden of proof, it also calls for hardship cases for those affected. “Especially for certain groups of people who find it difficult to prove an occupational disease.” The detection hurdles for professionals had to go down, the procedures often took too long. “It is an absurdity when seriously ill people are held out like this.”

A hardship case for more individual justice also misses Beate Müller-Gemmeke of the Greens. “The important reform of occupational disease law thus has a void that should urgently be filled.”

More research for occupational safety

Trade associations are obliged to research new occupational diseases. According to the draft, the BGs should publish this research once a year: In which projects did they invest how much money and which scientists received this money?

In an interview with BuzzNazz  News, experts criticize that this is not going far enough. Since the Berufsgenossenschaften in the past had done little research on new occupational diseases, there must be clear rules for research in the future. If, for example, new occupational diseases are introduced in other European countries, then German professional associations should be obliged to research them as well. For example, Parkinson’s has been a recognized occupational disease for years due to pesticides in France.

Till Mansmann, who sits for the FDP in the Committee for Labor and Social Affairs of the Bundestag, wants exactly such a Europeanization. “We have to look at what is recognized in other countries and we have to get a sync. I believe that this would also help us achieve a protection improvement in Germany. “The Federal Ministry of Labor writes on request that the professional associations already have an explicit research mandate.

The labor and social ministers of the federal states also demanded more research on occupational diseases in 2016 – not only from the employers’ liability insurance associations themselves, but from independent institutes. The employers’ liability insurance associations are financed by the employers and could therefore have an interest in not recognizing too many occupational diseases.

Experts criticize the draft as half-hearted

The largest German trade union, the IG Metall, demands that even rare diseases be recognized without sufficient scientific knowledge, if it is plausible that these were created by the profession. “The formulations for occupational diseases are in some places too narrow or too far, so that they lead to many rejections,” says Heinz Fritsche, union secretary of IG Metall, in conversation with BuzzNazz  News.

In principle, says trade unionist Fritsche, the draft of the ministry goes in the right direction. In addition to the hardship rule, he has a second demand as a trade unionist: a social policy committee. He should advise the ministry on what occupational diseases are formulated. The Länder also demand such a social partner committee in their decision of December 2016.

Gateway for arbitrary decisions?

Michael Gümbel, Head of “Work and Health” in Hamburg, one of the few independent counseling centers for those affected, has quite fundamentally criticized the ministry’s draft . The bill provides for a greater involvement of those affected. If they are admitted to an occupational disease, they should be required to take part in preventive measures. If they do not do enough, benefits can be cut. The obligation to cooperate can encourage the professional associations to decide arbitrarily, writes Gümbel on request of BuzzNazz  News.

“As an independent counseling center, we often see in our work with those affected that employers’ liability insurance associations are not prepared to pay or have not done enough to prevent it. And for those affected, it is then very difficult to fight against the professionals and their specialized legal bodies at the Berufsgenossenschaften. “If an employer has made his employees ill, then the employees are entitled to a pension, regardless of whether they subsequently participate in prevention. “It’s the employer’s obligation under the law to improve working conditions – and the employers’ liability insurance associations to control it,” writes Gümbel. And: “A compulsion to participate will also demotivate the many who would really like to do that.”

Numerous problems do not affect the design

BuzzNazz  News has repeatedly reported on occupational diseases in recent months , Some of the problems identified in our research are not taken up in the bill. For example, experts have long criticized the fact that the selection of experts in the occupational disease procedure is problematic: many experts are too closely bound to the employers’ liability insurance associations, and unilateral appraisers can not be identified for those affected. One solution could be that employers’ liability insurance associations are no longer allowed to select doctors as appraisers who are in close business relations with them. These would be, for example, the so-called consulting doctors of the professional associations or employed doctors of accident insurance clinics. At least, however, possible conflicts of interest would have to be made transparent to those affected. There is nothing to read in the draft. The Federal Ministry of Labor replies on request,

The decision-making processes within the professional associations are also problematic. There, committees decide on the applications of those affected, with representatives of employers and employees. Employee representatives are often lay people and have little time to prepare properly. On average, committee members have about two to three hours for 30 decisions, or about five minutes per case. Michael Gümbel from the Hamburg counseling center therefore calls for compulsory further training of the members of the committees, in particular for new occupational diseases. There is nothing to read in the bill. The Federal Ministry of Labor writes on request that the occupation of the committees is the task of the professional associations.

Again and again criticized are the lack of control of the professional associations. In the federal states, the national medical doctors are responsible for the supervision of occupational disease procedures. However, according to research by Buzz Feed News, the number of these physicians has dropped from 160 to less than 70 over the past two decades. A trade doctor in Germany today is responsible for an average of more than 500,000 people. Only a quarter of all occupational disease procedures are reviewed by a medical practitioner. The lack of supervision of the employers’ liability insurance is not mentioned in the draft of the Ministry of Labor.

Also Jutta Krellmann of the left-wing parliamentary group in the Bundestag calls for a stronger role of the national medical doctors in the control of the procedures. “In my federal state of Lower Saxony, only one single Landesgewerbearzt is responsible for occupational diseases, in Bremen there is no more. This is an untenable condition. “The Federal Ministry of Labor writes on request that the countries are responsible for their own resources.

Experts call for independent advice centers

In addition, there are hardly any independent advice centers for advising those affected. Only in Hamburg and Bremen can affected people turn to one job – and even in these two cities there are too few staff. In Hamburg, less than one job is planned to advise on occupational disease. Most recently, the counseling center was only able to advise about a dozen people each year – with 1,000 occupational disease claims, in Hamburg alone, every year. The Bremen advice center wrote on request of BuzzNazz News that those affected were “mostly overwhelmed” without help. “A major hurdle is the flood of the respective forms of the professional associations,” wrote the spokeswoman for the Senator for Science, Health and Consumer Protection on request.

Beate Müller-Gemmeke from the Greens also calls for “urgently more independent advice centers for those affected”, with enough staff and secure funding. Independent advice centers are not mentioned in the new bill. On request, the Federal Ministry of Labor writes that the Federal Government is already promoting independent participation advice with the Federal Participation Act.

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