Japanese insurance companies, already overwhelmed with thousands of claims of death and property damage, are beginning to see even more claims from workers covered by 'volunteer activities insurance' for injuries sustained in disaster relief operations.
While Tepco and the Japanese government have begun making token payments to residents and refugees who resided in communities affected by the nuclear crises at the Fukushima power plant, volunteer workers are finding themselves in a entirely different predicament of filing individual claims under insurance policies being sold to volunteers and required for assisting in the massive cleanup efforts.
Japanese news sources are reporting a steady rise in insurance claims filed by volunteers who have been injured while helping people in areas hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country in March. Reports say almost 300 claims have filed by workers sustaining injuries that range from bone fractures, lacerations from glass and debris, puncture wounds, insect bites, chemical burns, and eye injuries, with more claims expected as the much needed work progresses.
According to Kyodo News, "casualty insurers report claims are being filed by workers who have completed volunteer assignments in Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures" while assisting in earthquake and tsunami relief.
Future claims can not be ruled out as some volunteer workers are being regularly exposed to asbestos and possibly radiation from new hot spots being reported on a daily basis in areas that were originally considered safe from radioactive contamination. This includes areas that are outside of the 30 kilometer no-entry zone surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, reports Reuters. Isolated reports of villages up to 300 km (180 miles) away from the crippled plant have registered radiation levels "above the international standard for annual exposure by nuclear workers."
Government officials say they will recommend the evacuation of residents living in radioactive hot spots, but at this time the choice to leave these newly discovered and potentially dangerous areas will not be mandatory.
Digital Journal recently reported on the Skilled Veterans Corps, a group of retired engineers and professionals, who are asking the government to allow them to voluntarily replace younger workers at the Fukushima power plant saying the average age of their experienced workers exceeds 60 years-old, with some in their 70s, and they would have a better chance of living out they reminder of their lives without being concerned about the effects of cancer which can take up 20 to 30 years to develop.
But this small number of elderly workers, willing to volunteer their services, will not meet the needs of the Japanese people who need younger, strong, hard-working volunteers to do the physical work necessary to restore their homes to livable condition and their businesses to a point where they can begin to offer support services and goods for displaced refugees.
The pool of primarily unskilled workers needed for the volunteer cleanup positions range from 20 to 40 years-old. Volunteers will need to provide their own gear for the work assigned to protect them from injury, if chosen by one of the many groups organizing these short-term assignments. Kyodo News reports, "The Japan National Council of Social Welfare recommends that anyone headed to the disaster zone ensure they are properly equipped — including with dust masks and sturdy boots — because the tasks they face are likely to involve dangerous heavy-duty work."
An Internet search of disaster relief organizations seeking volunteer workers finds that the majority are requiring 'volunteer activity insurance' to be purchased as a prerequisite to approval for disaster relief volunteer positions. Volunteers are being utilized for a variety of positions that include clerical duties, food distribution, cleanup, reconstruction, and physical labor.
At this time, a projected date has not been set as to when the injured volunteers will be compensated under their insurance policies. And with over two million Japanese citizens reported to be on welfare since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, receiving compensation promptly is already an issue for some.
News reports say that during peak work periods, over 11,000 volunteers have volunteered daily. This is addition to the thousands of Japanese citizens, who are without work since the natural disaster and have been hired by Tepco or the Japanese government to provide them with some income during Japan's recovery period.