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Workplace bullying widespread at fire departments, survey shows

Kyodo

Twenty-eight percent of women working at fire departments nationwide experienced sexual harassment at work in the past year, a government survey has found.

The survey of 733 fire departments also found 17.5 percent of male employees experienced power harassment, a type of workplace bullying.

Despite the extent of the problem, 37.5 percent of departments provided no place for victims to report or seek recourse against workplace intimidation.

A Fire and Disaster Management Agency working group plans to implement measures as early as next month to boost resources within fire departments to handle harassment complaints and offer victims counseling. The agency will also set tougher penalties for offenders.

The survey, conducted by the agency earlier this month, polled 3,200 men and 800 women, of which 2,951 responded. The results were reported Tuesday at a meeting of the working group.

Among the female victims of sexual harassment, most reported verbal abuse, including being subjected to obscene remarks or sexist suggestions to get married quickly.

Other incidents included unwanted touching and being forced to sit next to male superiors at drinking parties.

Among male workers, 2.2 percent experienced sexual harassment, the survey said.

The report also showed widespread power harassment, which involves the intimidation of a subordinate, such as excessive public scolding or ignoring greetings. This was most common among male workers, while 12.8 percent of female workers said they experienced power harassment.

Respondents attributed the causes to factors such as a closed environment, strict hierarchical relations and sexism as a result of the relatively few women in the workplace.

Meanwhile, a third-party investigative panel in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, on Tuesday found a male firefighter’s suicide was the result of power harassment by his superiors, underscoring the harmful effects of workplace bullying.

The panel’s report showed that the firefighter, who was 20 years old at the time of his death in June 2014, was grabbed by the collar and verbally abused by his supervisors during training.

As he had no disease or troubled personal relationships, the panel concluded the superiors’ actions caused the suicide.

The city took disciplinary action against seven people, of which two face yearlong suspensions from duty and pay cuts for three months.

The mother of the male firefighter said, “It was good that power harassment was recognized but the punishment was too lenient.”