Toyota Hybrid Engineer's Death Pinned On Overwork - InformationWeek
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7/10/2008
09:35 AM
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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.

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