Workers’ compensation laws exist in virtually all industrial countries. Our respected colleague Jon Gelman from New Jersey provides an interesting article on Japanese law. Issues in the United States are similar and change as the workplace changes. Japan provides workers’ compensation death from overwork because prolonged extremely long work weeks are so common. As American work weeks get longer, perhaps we will see similar developments.
Since the 1960s there has been serious social concern over health problems due to long working hours in Japan. Around that time the term Karoshi, or “death from over work,” became known. Recent national statistics show that more than 6 million people worked for 60 hours or more per week during years 2000 and 2004.
Approximately three hundred cases of brain and heart diseases were recognized as labour accidents resulting from overwork (Karoshi) by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) between 2002 and 2005. Consequently, the MHLW has been working to establish a more appropriate compensation system for Karoshi, as well as preventive measures for overwork related health problems.
In 2001, the MHLW set the standards for clearly recognizing Karoshi in association with the amount of overtime working hours. These standards were based on the results of a literature review and medical examinations indicating a relationship between overwork and brain and heart diseases. In 2002, the MHLW launched the program for the prevention of health impairment due to overwork, and in 2005 health guidance through an interview by a doctor for overworked workers has been enacted as law.
Long working hours are controversial issues because of conflicts between health, safety, work-life balance, and productivity. It is obvious that we need to continue to research the impact on worker health and the management of long working hours. These problems apply not only in Japan, but here in the U.S. and all over the world.