Toyota workers die building safe cars

Chris Walters 7 comments
Toyota workers die building safe cars

Go to school, study hard, get into university, get a good job, work hard and start a family. That’s what my grandmother always said to me when I was young. I followed it to a T except for that work hard bit.

I’m sure this advice has been handed down from generation to generation around the world.

Since the 80’s, if you ask anybody about their impressions of the Japanese, the stereotypical response would be that he/she is rich, is really smart, works hard and loves taking photos.

I still believe this stereotype is alive and well today…but there’s only a problem of balance.

As you may or may not know Japan is facing an employment and social crisis as its percentage of “gray” people (retired or about the retire) is the highest in the world and their population is on a downward slide to oblivion. However, adding fuel to this problem is good ole grandmas advice…work hard. Apparently, the Japanese in the 34-45 age group are working so hard, that work related death is spiralling out of control. Even to the point where is has its own special word, “Karoshi, death from overwork”.

When I first heard of this word it was like the proverbial urban myth, heard or read about but never actually experienced. However, after I returned from my honeymoon, I asked one of my co-workers about one Mr. X. I was totally shocked to hear that he died at his desk! He was typing away then next thing curled over, fell on the floor and adios amigos*

Guess he could go home early for a change!

But the Government has said that determining the actual number of Karoshi deaths has been difficult to determine. Labor lawyers count them in tens of thousands, but Government sources argue that it’s almost impossible to definitively establish whether the heart attack, brain hemorhage or, increasingly, suicide that is generally the official cause of death is ultimately the result of too much overwork?

That’s a fair point. If you’ve ever been to Japan you will see that the sex industry is huge! Catering to almost every imaginable fetish know to man, and then some. Dress up maid, nurse, school girl, teacher clubs, bondage, hostess bars, “bath” shops just to name a few. So what’s to say, a guy with a weak heart could have been at the strippers all night with colleagues after bonus day…I know my heart would take a good workout…among other things.

But there are other positive side effects for working too hard. For example, growing your own vegetables…what the hell does this have to do with anything? Well, it was reported that a graphic designer, 34 was so busy during the week that on Sundays all she did was lie around on the futon, swallowing wine from the bottle and eating convenience store snacks.

One day, she found a fungus-like substance growing around her futon, similar to that of forest mushrooms surrounding a tree.

Those things are huge if you’ve ever seen one. How could you possible miss something the size of a teacup saucer growing out of the side of your mattress, not to mention the smell. But I heard it tasted good. Last I heard she was planning a dinner party for a select group of friends to feast on “locally” grown organic mushrooms.

With keeping it in the family, her boyfriend (architect, 34, never sleeps before 4 a.m.) and kept having to buy his underwear at various convenience stores because he couldn't find time to do the laundry. One day, an avalanche of socks and T-shirts came crashing down as he slept, nearly suffocating him.

Firstly, I want to know where he stores his dirty laundry, because it is usually in a) a basket, b) the washing machine, or c) on the floor. So given that it came crashing down on him it could only have been stuck to the roof or in a pile reminiscent of Mount Fuji that erupted without warning. That, I would have loved to see. If he died, I wonder what the Government would officially write as the cause of death. Obviously not karoshi because he was at home lying on his lazy ass! Maybe asphyxiation by killer mushrooms found growing out of his dirty underwear. That’s definitely a more plausible reason don’t you think!?

I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear that Toyota, one of the world’s most famous companies renowned for being a safe, green and environmental champion in a car industry has also been drawn into the karoshi debate. Between 1991 and 2005, Toyota’s annual production per worker rose from 41.9 vehicles to 58.7. In 2005 alone, 67 workers succumbed to karoshi; and 247 were absent for three months or more. 67! Dude, that’s like half the population of the town I come from. Wake up and smell the death, I mean roses. You got a problem there.

One guy, Kenichi Uchino joined Toyota in 1989. He was a quality control engineer. During the last 30 days of his life -- he died in February of a heart attack at age 30 (my condolences to his family, 30, what a waste) -- he reportedly worked 144 hours of overtime. The Nagoya District Court is currently considering whether his death is work-related.

My question is, if a guy does nothing but work, why is there a need to consider the cause of death. It’s like seeing a dead person under a car and saying “Gee! I wonder what the cause of death could be? We’d better investigate”.

So the moral of the story is: Don’t work hard! Your company can and will replace you…your friends and family can’t.

* This person was well over the 35-45 age bracket and actually didn’t work hard.


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Monday 18th August 2008 | 01:04 AM

Interesting Chris....I had to laugh, though I have always thought myself to be a hard worker, I don't think I have to worry about Karoshi. Leave it to the Japanese to got so intensely into their work.


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Joe Marco

Monday 18th August 2008 | 02:34 AM

The only person I work my ass off for is my day job, I do the minimum, it's not worth it to take on a 'job' so intensely and personally. You are not your JOB.

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Monday 18th August 2008 | 08:14 AM

I have to admit that I did learn the hard way. I worked for a company (National 1) which expected its workers to do anything it takes. The culture just built up that you were expected to be there even if you werent that busy. Its a bit like Japanese companies, so it doesnt promote efficiency/productivity.

I know if I can leave at five, I'll bust my gut to ensure Ive finished before then.
Anyway, I was working 90-100 hours a week and my salary by the hour was less than a junior at McDonlds. When I pointed this out to my boss, he gave me some answer that made me think I was supposed to feel honoured to be working there.

Well, you can bullshit some people some of the time, but not all people all the time. The company ended uo bust cos the key/good workers got disgruntled and left for didnt give a shit.

So now I just do whats required, and will do more if I get paid overtime...but thats about it.

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Monday 18th August 2008 | 09:03 AM

What the hell happened to suicide in the elderly, once they became a burden or were unable to care for themselves, they shoved a sword in their guts, sliced downwards, then to the side and bled out over a drain or in a grassy field...

That was a good article though Chris, I've always wondered what would have happened if I had stayed in my previous job; 3 days at home each week, 4 days somewhere else (usually philippines or India). Even when I was home I held skype video and teleconferences at all hours of the night! I wonder whether it would have been my family that left me or my health.

Either way, the last trip I made to the Philippines was the deal breaker, I arrived home, went immediately to bed, woke up 2 days later and had to go to hospital with the most horrible virus I'd ever encountered. The first thing I did after regaining my health was to get a government job...

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Monday 18th August 2008 | 10:35 AM

how funky is that..? futon fungus. aaag and then feasting on it? ive heard that futons are grotty beds, but this takes it to a whole new (lower) level.
however, i do know about working too hard. having your own business definitely has knobs on it. we average about a 14 hr day for 6 days a week. the most we've worked was an 18 hr day. that was over the 3 week chrissy period.
suffice to say i am seriously missing some good sleep, which isnt helped by two cats who have to be sleeping on top of you when you are in bed

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Tuesday 19th August 2008 | 10:19 PM

Mr. Roboto, where are you?!

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Wednesday 17th September 2008 | 01:04 PM

Totally gutted, I just learnt today a mate of mine in Japan just died of karoshi!
Only 43 and has a very young kid. Absolute waste (; - ;)
I sent him an email 2 weeks ago, but though he might have been away on business...

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