Safety and Health Surrounding Workers in Japan

Mr. Kenji Abe
Kyushu Institute of Technology
Graduate School of Life Science & Systems Engineering 


Latest topics based the themes of safety and health surrounding workers in Japan will be covered by four issues.
In the last issue, collaboration between Japan and Asian countries in the safety and health area and the status of technological support for each country will be briefly introduced.



1. Current Status of Occupational Accidents in Japan  - Launch of Fall Prevention Campaign under a Government Initiative -

2. Rapidly Progressing Aging of Workers and Occupational Accidents Falling is Lifestyle-related Accident

3. Start of Obligation of Stress Check for Workers  - Overwork and Mental Health -

4. The International Standardization (ISO) of Safety and Health is Progressing



1. Current Status of Occupational Accidents in Japan
     - Launch of Fall Prevention Campaign under a Government Initiative -


Seeing the situation of occurrence of accidents at work sites in Japan, about 120,000 people were encountered with occupational accidents by which they had to leave their duties for four days or more in 2014, compared to about 170,000 peoples 20 years ago in 1995, which means that occupational accidents decreased by about 30%. When the comparison is made about the number of fatalities among these accidents, the number of fatalities in 2014 was 1,000 people compared to 2,400 people in 1995, a substantial decrease by 60%. It shows that serious accidents have decreased.
The background is that occupational accident prevention activities are being stepped up at each company and that safety and health technologies are progressing, and also one of the factors is the change in the industrial structure.
For the past 20 years, there was no significant change in agriculture, fisheries and other primary industries (composition ratio is 1%). In case of manufacturing, construction and other secondary industries, the composition ratio is declining largely from 31% to 24%. On the other hand, retailing, various services and other tertiary industries are growing from 67% to 75%. As a matter course, the number of workers in these tertiary industries is also increasing. The more total working hours increase in industries as a whole, the higher the risk of occurrence of occupational accidents grows. In tertiary industries, however, dangerous works that cause accidents involving death are not many, and as a result, death and other serious accidents tend to decline although accidents that require time off from work don't decrease very much. This gives a large change in overall occurrence of occupational accidents.
Seeing occupational accidents of 20 years ago by type of accidents, accidents of fall from high levels were the highest at 20% of the total, followed by accidents of being caught or pulled into machinery at 19%, and then accidents of falling on the same level by slipping and falling on the floor or on the pathway at 15%.
What were accidents like in 2014? The order was totally changed like: falling on the same level was the highest at 23%; falling from high levels was at 17%; and caught or pulled into machinery was 13%.
Thus, serious accidents causing death, like falling from high levels and caught or pulled into machinery, decreased, and accidents like falling by losing balance on little level differences or on wet pathways/steps occurred often mainly in tertiary industries.
However, even small accidents cannot be disregarded because there are cases where they lead to serious accidents. Weather of 2014 was unseasonal, in particular, and heavy snow fell in February and March in areas where there is not much snow usually, and many falling accidents occurred. Like the previous year, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare will continuously take nationwide initiative for the elimination of falling accidents.

2. Rapidly Progressing Aging of Workers and Occupational Accidents Falling is Lifestyle-related Accident

Total population of Japan is 127.08 million people as of October 2014, of which elderly population aged 65 or over reached the record high level at 33 million people, and their ratio of total population (population-aging rate) rose by about 1% from the previous year (25.1%) to 26%. The population-aging rate is progressing rapidly and doubling every 20 years at 7% in 1970 to 14% in 1994.
The same applies to labor population. The ratio of workers aged 65 or over was at 21.2% in 2014 although it was 19.8% in 2004.
What are occupational accidents like? Out of 120,000 victims who had to leave their duties for four days or more in 2014, elderly workers aged 60 or over accounted for 23% of total. In terms of the occurrence rate per 1,000 workers (incident rate), the rate of workers in their 20s is 1.7 people, whereas the rate of workers aged 60 or over is almost double at 3.1 people.
As shown in the last issue, the occurrence of falling accidents is increasing. The major factors are aging of workers and deterioration of physical strength. It is unavoidable that physical strength is lowered with age. Nevertheless, wrong convictions and overconfidence for own physical strength like "I never imagined I fall on such a place!" and "I thought I could firmly support myself if this extent," that is to say, "a discrepancy between awareness and actual conditions (lowered physical strength)" is rather a problem.
As to functions which are lowered in accordance with age, sense of equilibrium and sense of balance are lowered faster than muscular strength of hand, leg, etc. This is the factor linking directly to falling accidents, but it is the function that is not found easily by yourself.
It is also necessary to be noted that accidents of elderly people become serious. Injury sites move upward of body with age. That is to say, the injury position changes from leg or knee of young age to chest or shoulder of middle age, and then head of old ages. There are not a few cases where even minor accidents cause death.
Deterioration of physical strength and physical reaction time doesn't happen suddenly. It is the result of daily lifestyle, that is to say, lack of exercise habits. Diseases caused by lifestyle, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are collectively called "lifestyle disease," and it can be said that falling accidents are exactly "lifestyle-related accidents."
Concerning lack of exercise, it is taken for granted in large cities that communing time is for one hour or more, and moreover, people have more opportunities to move their bodies by using train or bus or by walking. In case of factories in local cities or suburbs, on the other hand, commuting by own car is the main method. Tendency of lacking exercises is seen from younger ages. It is important to get into a habit of exercising consciously after working hours or on holidays.
Aging workers will increase further because of raising the starting age for pension benefits and mandatory continuation of employment up to 65 years old, etc. Promotion of health becomes an important issue for companies to make their workers spend pleasant days without injuries.


3. Start of Obligation of Stress Check for Workers
     - Overwork and Mental Health -


From December 2015, the system for checking stress of workers started. Small-scale workplaces with 49 employees or less are "obliged to make an effort" for the time being from a decision that the system for the implementation is still inadequate, however workplaces with 50 or more employees are required to implement the stress check.
In the background of introducing this system, problems of mental health involving workers and long hours working exist. People who committed suicide in Japan numbered about 33,000 people in 1998 and exceeded 34,000 people in 2003, which means the number increased by 8,000 people compared to years before 1997. Behind this, such an increase is said to be affected by the increase in uneasiness about economic and social life including successive company bankruptcies caused by the collapse of bubble economy.
After that, economic conditions are becoming stable, and the number of people who committed suicides is declining gradually to 25,427 people in 2014. However, the number of salaried workers accounting for total suicides is 7,164 people, which accounts for 28% of the total. Although the tendencyA where the total number of people who committed suicide, is declining, the ratio of salaried workers accounting for the total tends to increase on the contrary. Also, in accordance with survey data about the motives of suicide, 2,227 people are pointed out their working problems, which means that one every three salaried workers who committed suicide had the suicide motive in their working situations.
Moreover, the stress survey for workers by the national government shows that 60% people feel strong stress from their human relations in their workplaces and quantities/qualities of their duties. Many workplaces have increasingly more employees who committed suicide or left form their duties for a long term because they had "depression" caused by the stress. Under such circumstances, the national government specified in the law to implement the stress check once every year, and the law was into effect in December 2015.
Stress check items recommended by the national government are comprised of 57 items. The breakdown is: 17 items about stress factors related to work such as feeling the burden of the work; 29 items about psychological and physical stress response, such as fatigue and uneasiness; and 11 items about support from supervisors and colleagues.
Those who implement the stress check are limited to medical professionals, such as doctors and public health nurses, and the expenses are bone by employers.
In addition to the above, the system can be summarized in the following three points.

    Stress check is not an examination to find depression and other mental illness. It has the purpose of self-care to prevent illness, such as awareness about stress situations, elimination of uneasiness and recovery from fatigue, etc.
    Consent of worker himself/herself is required in order for the employer to know the implementation results.
    Dismissal, demotion or others that become disadvantageous to workers are prohibited on grounds that they don't take stress check or they are found to be under high stress as the result.

For those who were judged to have high stress as a result of stress check, consultation with a doctor and other measures for reducing stress will be taken. Depending on a judgment of a doctor, follow-up measures are required to take including the restriction of duties at workplaces (such as prohibition of overtime work or business trips).


4. The International Standardization (ISO) of Safety and Health is Progressing


As well as the themes on quality and environment, ISO standardization of Occupational Health and Safety Management System (hereinafter, OHSMS) was approved by the member states (54 countries) in 2013, and the standards development is currently undertaken.
The name is ISO45001, which is scheduled to be published in September 2016.
The Japan Industrial Safety and Health Association (JISHA), a core organization of safety and health activities, participates in the ISO Project Committee (ISO/PC283) as an expert representing Japan.
The JISHA has already been promoting "JISHA OSHMS standards certification service" in Japan and developing its service to Japanese companies advancing into China and Vietnam recently. In the future, JISHA is proceeding with preparation to become a certification institution of ISO45001.
Safety and health technologies in Japan remain at a high level even in comparison with those in US and European countries, and there are also many operational experiences at small and medium-sized workplaces. The JISHA is taking various approaches to make technological transfer of these know-hows mainly in various Asian countries.
As an organization where organizations related to working safety and health of Asia-Pacific region join for the purpose of information exchange and mutual understanding and cooperation, there exists the Asia-Pacific Occupational Safety and Health Organization (APOSHO). The APOSHO was established in August 1985 with strong action taken by the JISHA. A full-time secretariat doesn't exist, and a head of the secretariat is taken the form of being appointed through mutual elections from among its member organizations that have voting rights. At present, India is head of the secretariat. As of May 2014, the APOSHO consists of regular members (24 organizations), associate members (5 organizations), affiliate members (11 organizations) and honorary members (21 people). The JISHA has been taking in part of activities of the APOSHO since its inauguration, and JISHA President and Managers of related departments, etc. attend an annual conference held each year.
In 2015, the conference was held in Seoul City in South Korea from May 31 to June 4. At the conference, because APOSHO marks 30th anniversary, a panel discussion was held under the moderator of Senior Specialist on Occupational Safety and Health of ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, where case studies, etc. are reported from government officials of South Korea, Singapore, Philippines, Cambodia and Thailand. The JISHA chaired the Ergonomics Subcommittee Meeting, and also introduced, at the Medium-sized Enterprise Measure Subcommittee Meeting, the outline and case examples of "OSH Support Project for the Small & Medium-sized Workplaces" which started in 2013.
In 2016, the conference is scheduled to be held from April 4 to 7 in New Delhi, India.
In addition, JISHA implements seminars on occupational safety and health each year upon request from JICA. From March 23 to 27 in 2015, a total of seven trainees were accepted from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Philippines and Mauritius and provided training programs to learn theories of OSHMS and risk assessment, and "Zero-accident Campaign" and "KYT (Hazard Prediction Training)" that are typical safety activities in Japan.


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