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The labor ministry plans to look into work-related accidents for possible links to cost-cutting and corporate restructuring efforts, it was learned Sunday.

The move comes amid a rise in the number of serious work-related accidents at factories.

Normally, labor officials only probe the direct causes of accidents, such as how work was being done at the time, and do not delve into the background of the incidents.

However, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has decided for the first time to widen the scope of its probes because it suspects there may be a link between the rise in accidents and firms’ efforts to slash costs and reduce workers, according to sources.

The ministry has instructed investigations by regional labor bureaus and labor standards inspection offices nationwide to concentrate on three points when looking into a work-related accident — cuts in the workforce at the firm in question, reductions in spending and the age of the equipment involved, the sources said.

For example, officials looking into a gas explosion or gas poisoning incident at a plant resulting from a valve not being closed properly have been determining who was responsible for closing the valve and what the procedure for doing so was.

Under the ministry’s new guidelines, officials won’t stop at seeing the accident as a result of procedural mistakes but will also check whether there had been a reduction in the number of people assigned to the task, how much money had been spent for procedures and how much the company had pumped into safety education to prevent accidents.

“While it will not be easy to find a direct relationship between corporate restructuring (and the accidents), we want to conduct a more accurate analysis of the background for the accidents through the accumulation of information from each investigation,” a ministry official said.

According to labor ministry figures, in 2003 there were 249 cases of serious work-related accidents, or those in which three or more people died. The figure was 18 more than for 2002 and the worst since 1979.

Although accidents in workplaces in which fewer than three people die are on the decline, serious accidents have been rising since hitting bottom in 1985.

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