LILLE, France (AFP) — A French court ruled Friday that over 700 coal miners must be compensated for the psychological stress produced by their exposure to a range of toxic substances during their careers, a decision that could pave the way for lawsuits in other industries.
The appeals court in Douai, northern France, a former bastion of the country's mining industry, ordered the French state to pay 10,000 euros ($12,150) to each of the 727 "black faces" — as the dust-covered coal miners were known — who pursued the case.
Charbonnages de France, the state-owned mining conglomerate formed to spur France's economic revival after World War II, was found liable for failing to take "all the necessary measures" to ensure miners' safety.
For years, they were exposed to coal, wood and stone dust, as well as asbestos, diesel and chemical fumes, formaldehyde and other chemicals that have been linked to increased risks of serious illness.
"All employees who have been exposed to toxins should now take advantage of this ruling to reduce the risks in their own companies," said Francois Dosso of the CFDT Miners union, who himself worked in the Lorraine mines of northeast France from the age of 14 until his retirement.
Even though many former miners have not fallen ill, the Douai court acknowledged the harmful anxiety produced from "the increased risk of developing serious illness" from their jobs, and from watching colleagues succumb to lung disease, cancer and other health problems.
During the hearing in Douai, a group of miners held a minute of silence for 49 colleagues they said had died since the legal fight was launched in 2013, at an average age of 68, from illnesses including kidney and skin cancer, leukemia, and silicosis and other lung diseases.
The French state, represented by the AJE judicial agency, has two months to appeal the ruling, but a lawyer for the miners, Cedric de Romanet, said an appeal was unlikely because the country's top court has already recognized the grounds for "anxiety harm."
"The miners welcome this happy ending" to their legal fight, the CFDT union said in a statement sent to AFP.
© Agence France-Presse
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.