Karoshi -Death by overwork. Just a Japanese Problem?

Karoshi means death by overwork. In Japanese it is spelt with the Kanji for overdo, labour, die and it is more common than anyone would like.



Officially 400 people have died because of Karoshi in 2016, the unofficial figure is around the 20,000 people a year.

It should be interesting to everyone that the government actually acknowledges that it exists. Suicides, strokes and heart attacks after long periods of sustained work are the signs the government look for to identify if a victim has died of Karoshi. There are unfortunately too many stories of Japanese workers who have died at their workplaces or at home after working unrealistically long hours. So much so that the government there has passed legislation that makes working over 100 past normal working hours illegal (that is working more than 5 hours a day extra) and even this seems too many hours spent at work.

China has recently officially acknowledged Karoshi as well (called Guolaosi in Chinese) and the China Youth Daily has said that over 600,000 people may die because of overwork a year in China.

Is this just a problem overseas though? can we find figures for Australians who have or may have died of overwork?

The truth is we just don’t know for certain. Safework Australia doesn’t collect figures on stress related deaths. Some jurisdictions actively discourage reporting of stress related deaths and injuries (such as NSW where you can’t claim for strokes or heart-attacks). Unlike In Japan where work stress is a recognised condition, Australia seems to be ignoring it as a factor.

We do know that suicides are statistically high in professions where long hours of work are normal, such as the Medical Profession and Construction work. We can only surmise the impact work has on strokes, with the majority of stroke victims being over the age of 65 (retirement age), stroke victims and survivors who are working age are between 1-19% of all stroke victims its nearly impossible to extrapolate whether this is work related or not. Heart Attacks are as hard to identify in Australia as being caused by overwork with no significant statistics kept by government agencies.

We do know it exists. Occasionally a news paper will print a story about the suicide or death of a doctor, or a stoke broker and discuss the harshness of their working environment as a potential reason for the death, but death caused by workplace stress isn’t a statistic our agencies believe worthy enough to track.

Karoshi isn’t just a Japanese problem, it does occur in Australia, it is just that we don’t track it like the Japanese so we cant tell how much of a problem it is.