TOKYO – A Japanese labor bureau has ruled that one of Toyota's top car engineers died from working too many hours, the latest in a string of such findings in a nation where extraordinarily long hours for some employees has long been the norm.
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. The man's identity is being withheld at the request of his family, who continue to live in Toyota City where the company is based.
In the two months up to his death, the man averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month, according to Mizuno.
He regularly worked nights and weekends, was frequently sent abroad and was grappling with shipping a model for the pivotal North American International Auto Show in Detroit when he died of ischemic heart disease in January 2006. The man's 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.
An officer at the Aichi Labor Bureau on Wednesday confirmed the ruling, but declined to comment on the record.
In a statement, Toyota Motor Corp. offered its condolences and said it would work to improve monitoring of the health of its workers.
There is an effort in Japan to cut down on deaths from overwork, known as "karoshi." Such deaths have steadily increased since the Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987.
Last year, a court in central Japan 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.