Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

Death from overwork remains a blot on Japan's corporate culture that appears to be here to stay.

In fiscal 2017, according to labor ministry figures, 190 people were certified as having died of "karoshi" and committed or attempted suicide because of their grueling work hours. The figure, released July 6, was down one from the previous year.

The data shows that steps outlined in fiscal 2015 by the government to prevent karoshi have had almost no effect.

With regard to work-related accident compensation payments in such cases, the figures cited 92 deaths from “cerebro- and cardiovascular diseases,” such as subarachnoid hemorrhage and myocardial infarction, caused by overwork. The number was down 15 from fiscal 2016.

Ninety-eight suicides and attempted suicides were recognized as due to mental anguish from overwork, including job-related stress. The figure was up 14 year on year and the second largest on record after 99 in fiscal 2014.

The statistics once again showed people unable to cope with excessive working hours are committing or attempting suicide.

In 90 percent of the deaths from overwork, the individuals had clocked up 80 hours or more in overtime per month. In 50 percent of the cases, the overtime came to 100 hours or more.

More than 50 percent of related suicides and attempted suicides involved overtime of 80 hours or more.

Eighty hours a month is used as the “threshold” for recognizing deaths as karoshi.

Two of the deaths from overwork and five of the suicides and attempted suicides occurred under the “discretionary working system,” whereby employers pay workers according to a predetermined number of hours instead of actual working hours.

The system has been widely criticized for promoting long working hours.

By type of industry, the most deaths from overwork occurred in the transportation and postal sectors, at 40, followed by 15 in the wholesale and retail segments and 14 in the manufacturing sector.

By age bracket, the largest number, or 41, of those who died from overwork were in their 40s, followed by 29 in their 50s and 13 in their 30s.

The industry type list of the suicides and attempted suicides from overwork was led by the manufacturing sector, at 24, followed by 21 in the construction segment.

By age bracket, the largest number, or 36, of those who committed or attempted suicide were in their 40s, followed by 26 in their 30s and 16 in their 20s.

Suicides and attempted suicides from overwork were more common among young generations than deaths from diseases brought on by overwork, with two involving teenagers.

Mental illnesses were recognized as work-related in 506 cases. The number, which includes the suicides and attempted suicides from overwork, was up eight year on year and set a new record for the second year in a row.

Physical ailments recognized as work-related were listed in 253 cases. The number of such cases, which includes deaths from overwork, was down seven from fiscal 2016.

In an effort to prevent deaths from overwork, the government included an upper regulation limit on the number of overtime hours, under penalty, in the “work style reform” package of laws enacted in late June.

The legislation says, for example, that overtime work should be less than an upper limit of 100 hours a month even during particularly busy periods and should not exceed an upper limit of 720 hours in a year. The new regulations will cover big businesses from April 2019, and small and midsize enterprises from the following April.