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April suicide of Kansai Electric manager also deemed ‘karoshi’; second Dentsu death logged

Kyodo

A labor standards office has determined the April suicide of a Kansai Electric Power Co. employee who logged hundreds of extra hours to extend the operating life of two nuclear reactors was another case of karoshi (death by overwork), sources close to the matter said.

The section chief in his 40s was trying to get the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval to extend the operating life of reactor Nos. 1 and 2 at Kansai Electric’s Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, the sources said Wednesday. Both were approaching their operating limit of 40 years.

The man, who has not yet been publicly named, is estimated to have worked over 200 hours of overtime in February and around 100 hours in both March and April. He committed suicide at a hotel in mid-April during a business trip to Tokyo.

The Tsuruga Labor Standards Inspection Office in Fukui concluded that overwork led to the suicide, deeming him eligible for benefits under the workers’ accident compensation insurance program.

The No. 1 reactor at the Takahama plant began operating in November 1974, and the No. 2 reactor in November the following year. Both have been suspended since 2011 due to safety concerns raised by the Fukushima disaster in March that year.

The reactors were approaching the government-mandated 40-year service limit; to continue beyond that limit required NRA approval. Failure to complete the approval procedures would have put the reactors at risk of decommissioning, which would hurt the profitability of Kepco, which depends heavily on atomic power.

Although the employee was considered to be in a managerial position and was not restricted by working limits under the Labor Standards Law, the company had an obligation to pay attention to his overtime hours and health.

After his working hours surged in January, he started making frequent trips to Tokyo in March to develop documents and meet with NRA officials. He looked so tired that his colleagues grew concerned about his health, the sources said.

The utility declined to comment on the suicide.

In June, the NRA gave approval to run the two reactors for an additional 20 years.

In the meantime, labor authorities also acknowledged on Thursday that another employee of advertising giant Dentsu Inc. died from overwork earlier this year. The junior male worker died in June 2013, sources close to the matter said Thursday.

The Tokyo labor office started examining the man’s cause of death from disease this year and deemed him eligible for benefits under its workers’ accident compensation insurance program, the sources said.

“It is true that our company’s worker passed away. We cannot give details, in complying with his bereaved family’s wishes,” Dentsu said.

The revelation follows this week’s recognition of the December 2015 suicide of Dentsu employeee Matsuri Takahashi as a case of karoshi. Her death at 24 was officially recognized last month by the Tokyo labor standards inspection office as another overwork-related death.

In 1991, the death of a young male worker was also acknowledged as a suicide induced by overwork.