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Japan: Toyota Engineer Died From Overwork

Wed, 07/09/2008 - 1:07pm
Jay Alabaster, Associated Press Writer

TOKYO (AP) -- A Japanese labor bureau has ruled that one of Toyota Motor Corp.'s top car engineers died from working too many hours, the latest decision against overwork in Japan, where stoic acceptance of extended overtime has long been the norm.

"In the two months up to his death, he averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month, the criteria for overwork," an officer at the Aichi Labor Bureau, who asked to remain anonymous because she is not an official spokeswoman, said Wednesday.

The man who died was aged 45 and had been under severe pressure as the lead engineer in developing a hybrid version of Toyota's blockbuster Camry line, said Mikio Mizuno, the lawyer representing his wife. His identity is being withheld at the request of his family, who continue to live in Toyota City where the company is based.

He regularly worked nights and weekends, was frequently sent abroad and was grappling with shipping a model for the influential North American International Auto Show in Detroit when he died of ischemic heart disease in January 2006. His daughter found his body at their home the day before he was to leave for the United States.

The ruling was handed down June 30 and will allow his family to collect benefits from his work insurance, Mizuno said.

In a statement, Toyota offered its condolences and said it would work to improve monitoring of the health of its workers.

It is the most recent in a string of decisions against long working hours in Japan, which is struggling to cut down on deaths from overworking, known as "karoshi." Such deaths have steadily increased since the Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987.

A court in central Japan last year ordered the government to pay compensation to Hiroko Uchino, the wife of a Toyota employee who collapsed at work and died at age 30 in 2002. She took the case to court after her application to the local labor bureau for compensation was rejected.

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