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Overwork extracts a high price

By Cesar Chelala | China Daily | Updated: 2012-11-28 09:47

When Luo Yang, who was in charge of research and development on the J-15 carrier-based fighter jet, died of a heart attack on Sunday, he was working under extremely stressful conditions. He died on the day that the J-15 completed its first successful landing on the Liaoning, China's first aircraft carrier.

For Chinese people, the father of China's carrier jet was a hero. No wonder many Chinese media outlets expressed their respect for Luo's contribution to the cause of carrier jets. He fully deserved such praise. However, some of the media should think twice before encouraging more people to follow Luo's example and work even harder.

Working hard is a virtue. But people overworking at the cost of their health or even their life incur a greater loss than the contribution they should have made.

For many experts, Luo's death from overwork in such stressful conditions, was an example of what the Japanese call karoshi, literally translated as "death from overwork", or occupational sudden death, whose main causes are heart attacks and strokes due to stress.

Karoshi has been widely studied in Japan, where the first case of this phenomenon was reported in 1969. It was a 29-year-old married man, working in the shipping department of Japan's largest newspaper company. However, it wasn't until the end of the 1980s that the media paid attention to this problem, after several high-ranking business executives, still in the primes of their lives, suddenly died without any previous signs of illness.

In 1987, as people's concerns about karoshi increased, the Japanese Ministry of Labor began to publish statistics on the problem. Lawsuits have been on the rise in Japan, prompted by the relatives of those who have died from overwork demanding compensation.

In the 1990s, karoshi deaths increased dramatically as the financial crisis gripped Japan. Increasingly, employers hired more temporary staff, who can more easily be laid off during difficult times. Fear of unemployment leads these workers to work harder and for longer hours.

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