Engineer with Japanese automaker died from overwork, board rules

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TOKYO — A Japanese labour bureau has ruled that one of Toyota Motor Corp.’s top car engineers died from working too many hours, the latest decision against overwork in Japan, where stoic acceptance of extended overtime has long been the norm.

The man who died was 45 and had been under severe pressure as the lead engineer in developing a hybrid version of Toyota’s blockbuster Camry line, said Mikio Mizuno, the lawyer representing his wife.

His identity is being withheld at the request of his family, who continue to live in Toyota City, where the company is based.

In the two months leading up to his death, he averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month, the criteria for overwork, according to Mizuno.

He regularly worked nights and weekends, was frequently sent abroad and was grappling with shipping a model for the influential North American International Auto Show in Detroit when he died of ischemic heart disease in January 2006.

His daughter found his body at their home the day before he was to leave for the United States.

The ruling was handed down June 30 and will allow his family to collect benefits from his work insurance, Mizuno said.

An officer at the Aichi Labour Bureau on Wednesday confirmed the ruling, but declined to comment on the record.

In a statement, Toyota offered its condolences and said it would work to improve monitoring of the health of its workers.

The ruling is the most recent in a string of decisions against long working hours in Japan, which is struggling to cut down on deaths from overworking, known as "karoshi."

Such deaths have steadily increased since the Health Ministry first recognized the phenomenon in 1987.

Wow, no chance of that happening to me thank god,

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