A survey by the Japanese Health Ministry showed that the number of deaths prompted by overwork – known as karoshi – was up 68% to a record 143 in the 12 months ending in March, according to a Reuters news report. Of these 133 men and ten women – 49 were in their 50s and 38 in their 40s.
The Health Ministry study found that work-related deaths arising from stress, a mental disorder, or depression nearly doubled to 70 in the April 2001 to March 2002 period. Of these, 31 were suicides, the ministry said.
A ministry official said the surge in the number of officially recognized karoshi was mainly due to changes in the standards by which labor inspectors study the link between overwork and death.
The new guidelines, adopted in December, require inspectors to take into account an employee’s working conditions over a six-month period before the time of death. Previously, only the week leading up to a death was looked at.
Karoshi became a buzzword in the 1980s when the Japanese worker secured a reputation for spending countless hours at work and putting work before hobbies, social commitments and even family.