#Asia 5 workplace safety issues faced by Japan in 2016


Evidently, working in Japan has its perks. However, every country is prone to workplace safety problems and Japan is no different, says the author


Japan is a great place to start or expand your business, but there are a few issues the country is facing with regards to workplace safety that no business person would be wise to ignore.

Japan is home to many businesses and has helped countless others expand their market. Despite recent issues, Japan still had the third largest economy in the world. Despite recent criticism, productivity is still high. Evidently, working in Japan has its perks. However, every country is prone to workplace safety problems and Japan is no different.

Here are some of the biggest health and safety issues in Japanese workplaces at the moment.

Workplace bullying can cause mental and physical health problems

The sad fact about bullying is that it is not just limited to schools; it is a workplace safety issue as well. In the playground, bullying is often much more complex than name calling and a few pranks. It can become a psychological game between the bully and bullied. One psychologist even coined the “bully circle” diagram to demonstrate the complexity of playground bullying.

As we grow older, bullying doesn’t simply vanish. Instead, it becomes even more complex. Teenage angst and toilet humour are replaced with problems unique to adulthood and the work environment such as money, family, and company hierarchy.

Workplace bullying in Japan is hard to measure, but several surveys suggest that the issue affects anywhere between 20 – 30 per cent of the workforce. That is a potentially huge number of people and, as a result, it’s a potentially huge problem.

Studies show that the effects of bullying from employer to employee can be both physical and mental. However, it can also be backfire on the employer as bullied employees have slower work performance than non-bullied employees.

Some employees have literally been worked to death

The Japanese government has recently announced plans to crack down hard on excessive and unpaid overtime and it’s easy to see why. According to a survey from 2015, over three million people in Japan are working more than 80 hours of overtime a month. The department of labour standards argues that overtime is one of the most frequent violations in Japanese workplaces.

The issue is also intimately connected with workplace bullying as one survey demonstrated that forced overtime is the third most common form of workplace bullying. Solving one issue will help to solve the others, and overtime is a serious issue. There are reports of people suffering from strokes, aneurysms, heart attacks, and even death from overwork. The Japanese even have a word for it: karoshi.

Bad mental health leads to increased workplace accidents

The mental health issues from overwork and bullying can lead to a third issue: workplace accidents. In the UK, the government board for health and safety (HSE) has been delivering training sessions and doing research on the psychological reasons for workplace accidents. HSE’s argument is that employees who are in a bad mental state can be just as at risk from accidents as employees who are not safety trained or who are not following health and safety protocol.

It’s a negative feedback loop for Japan as bullying leads to overtime which leads to mental health problems, physical health problems, and sometimes death as well. There are ways for Japan to break this loop, but there is still one other safety issue we’ve not mentioned…

The cleanup after the Fukushima disaster is still going on

March 2016 marked a sad anniversary for Japan: it had been five years since a magnitude 9.0 earthquake had rocked the country and caused the Fukushima nuclear power plant to go into meltdown. This depressing story is filled with tragically large numbers: 20,000 people either died or disappeared in the initial tsunami, the cleanup from the nuclear fallout is predicted to produce 22 million tons of radioactive waste, and the cleanup could take as long as 40 years.

Japan is an industrious country, and they have a powerful work ethic, but natural disasters can sometimes stump even the greatest of technology. The harsh truth is that, because of where Japan is situated geographically, it is prone to natural disasters like earthquakes and tidal waves. Beyond psychological workplace safety issues, Japan also has to deal with the wrath of natural disasters. This is a challenge that Japan’s infrastructure, homes, and workplaces all have to tackle together.

And the remarkable things is that they do. Japanese ingenuity means that despite being hit by a fifth of the world’s earthquakes higher than magnitude 6.0, they are still an economic powerhouse. Japan has a long history of creating buildings that withstand earthquakes and continuing to build successful businesses despite living on the Pacific Rim, the so-called “ring of fire” because of its high frequency of earthquakes and volcanoes. They have been labelled as world leaders in creating earthquake resistant buildings. Added to all that, workplaces are also involved in annual drills so that employee and employers know what to do when at earthquake hits. This kind of workplace safety training is a great start, but more needs to be done.

Japan needs more workplace safety training

Earthquakes inspire a reaction because they are visceral and terrifying events. However, Japan needs to apply this same ingenious spirit to workplace bullying, overtime, and death by accidents caused by unhealthy mental states. Earthquakes are a part of nature and, as such, they are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to control. Japan will continue to have earthquakes, and the Japanese people will continue to be prepared for them.

But the psychological problems facing Japan’s workplace can be controlled. They are not earthquakes; they are not the inevitable consequence of nature. Safety training, awareness raising, and national campaigns can tackle these very human and very psychological safety problems in the Japanese workplace.

Still, safety training of any kind has the benefit of teaching people something new, helping to create work camaraderie, and increasing work efficiency. As a result, even something like racking inspection training or warehouse safety training could help to tackle the psychological dangers of the Japanese workplace. The point is that Japanese employees need to look beyond the omnipresent danger of earthquakes and consider the danger that people pose to each other. Japanese workplace safety needs to become more human, and safety training would be an excellent way to do this.

The author Justin O’Sullivan is a safety writer and the owner of Storage Equipment Experts. He is a racking inspection expert who delivers racking inspection training to companies in the United Kingdom.

The views expressed here are of the author’s, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, submit your article here.


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