Working themselves to death: Long hours culture puts fifth of Japanese at risk

A fifth of workers are at risk of dying from overwork, according to an official survey into Japan’s notoriously strenuous working culture. They are routinely clocking up as much as 80 hours a month in overtime - the official threshold at which the prospect of death from work becomes - in 23% of companies. Some staff were completing more than 100 hours, the government survey showed. IT workers were found to be the most overworked, although the problem was nearly as severe in academic, research and engineering-sector organisations.

He worked 4,000 hours a year. The company had him punch a time card every day, so it knew that he worked that hard. In the days before his death, he had told his boss he had no appetite, he couldn’t sleep and was exhausted. The company knew he was at high risk of karoshi

Campaigner Emiko Teranishi, whose husband died from overwork

Hundreds of deaths related to overwork – from strokes, heart attacks and suicide – are reported every year in Japan, along with a host of serious health problems, sparking lawsuits and calls to tackle the problem. The survey was part of the nation’s first white paper on “karoshi”, or death from overwork, endorsed by prime minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet. The report, said to be the first of its kind in the world, was based on responses from 1,743 companies and 19,583 workers. Campaigners have called on the government to do more to curb the long hours culture.