Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
7/10/2008
09:35 AM
Cora Nucci
Cora Nucci
Commentary
50%
50%

Toyota Hybrid Engineer's Death Pinned On Overwork

Add hybrid car engineer to the list of jobs that can kill. Japanese authorities have ruled that the death of a 45-year-old top engineer on Toyota's Hybrid Camry line was caused by working too many hours.

Add hybrid car engineer to the list of jobs that can kill. Japanese authorities have ruled that the death of a 45-year-old top engineer on Toyota's Hybrid Camry line was caused by working too many hours.In Japan, there's a word for death by overwork: karoshi. There's even a hot line and a Web site for workers who want "consultation on workers' compensation for diseases, deaths, and severe disabilities caused by overwork or work-related stress."

An official death-by-overwork ruling can have a significant financial impact on the surviving family, The Economist explains:

If a death is judged karoshi, surviving family members may receive compensation of around $20,000 a year from the government and sometimes up to $1M from the company in damages. For deaths not designated karoshi, the family gets next to nothing.

The direct cause of the Toyota engineer's death, which occurred in 2006, was ischemic heart disease. He habitually worked nights and weekends, traveled frequently, and was preparing for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit when he died.

In Japan, unpaid overtime is apparently common, and Toyota "is often praised for the efficiency and flexibility of its workforce," to quote The Economist again.

"In the two months up to his death, [the Toyota engineer] averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month, the criteria for overwork," an unnamed officer at the Aichi Labor Bureau, told the AP.

In April I wrote about the stress of daily blogging and a small cluster of deaths and heart problems in the blogging community. In May, my colleague David Berlind wrote about his own heart-related collapse. And in June we lost Tim Russert to heart disease believed to have been exacerbated by stress from overwork.

Does anyone else see a pattern here?

After the latest karoshi ruling, Toyota said it would work to improve monitoring of the health of its workers. It made a similar vow last year after a death-by-overwork ruling in the 2002 demise of another Toyota worker.

But don't bet on it. Toyota didn't get to be the No. 1 car maker in the world by making sure its employees get a good night's sleep every night.

Employees everywhere need to take a more active role in monitoring and managing their own health. We know it better than any employer ever will or should.

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Server Market Splitsville
Server Market Splitsville
Just because the server market's in the doldrums doesn't mean innovation has ceased. Far from it -- server technology is enjoying the biggest renaissance since the dawn of x86 systems. But the primary driver is now service providers, not enterprises.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
InformationWeek Tech Digest, Dec. 9, 2014
Apps will make or break the tablet as a work device, but don't shortchange critical factors related to hardware, security, peripherals, and integration.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
InformationWeek Radio
Archived InformationWeek Radio
Join us for a roundup of the top stories on InformationWeek.com for the week of December 14, 2014. Be here for the show and for the incredible Friday Afternoon Conversation that runs beside the program.
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.