Health problems due to long working hours in Japan: working hours, workers' compensation (Karoshi), and preventive measures

Ind Health. 2006 Oct;44(4):537-40. doi: 10.2486/indhealth.44.537.


Late in the 1970s, serious social concern over health problems due to long working hours has arisen in Japan. This report briefly summarizes the Japanese circumstances about long working hours and what the Government has achieved so far. The national statistics show that more than 6 million people worked for 60 h or more per week during years 2000 and 2004. Approximately three hundred cases of brain and heart diseases were recognized as labour accidents resulting from overwork (Karoshi) by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) between 2002 and 2005. Consequently, the MHLW has been working to establish a more appropriate compensation system for Karoshi, as well as preventive measures for overwork related health problems. In 2001, the MHLW set the standards for clearly recognizing Karoshi in association with the amount of overtime working hours. These standards were based on the results of a literature review and medical examinations indicating a relationship between overwork and brain and heart diseases. In 2002, the MHLW launched the program for the prevention of health impairment due to overwork, and in 2005 the health guidance through an interview by a doctor for overworked workers has been enacted as law. Long working hours are controversial issues because of conflicts between health, safety, work-life balance, and productivity. It is obvious that we need to continue research regarding the impact on worker health and the management of long working hours.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational / economics
  • Accidents, Occupational / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Brain Diseases / economics
  • Brain Diseases / prevention & control
  • Brain Diseases / psychology
  • Female
  • Heart Diseases / economics
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control
  • Heart Diseases / psychology
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / economics
  • Occupational Diseases / prevention & control
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Work Schedule Tolerance*
  • Workers' Compensation*