Photo/IllutrationResidents apply for disaster victim certificates in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, on July 16, 2018, due to heavy rains that hit western Japan earlier that month. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

When Hiroshima, Okayama and Ehime prefectures were hit by torrential rains, flooding and landslides in July 2018, a total of 2,768 officials of 46 local governments worked overtime that put them at risk of "karoshi" (death from overwork).

An Asahi Shimbun survey found that in one of the local governments, more than 90 percent of officials subject to the survey put in overtime hours past the "karoshi line."

The karoshi line is a health ministry guideline recognizing that workers’ deaths from cerebral hemorrhage, cerebral infarction or cardiac infarction were apparently caused by overwork. Overtime of about 100 hours a month puts the worker at risk of the fatal conditions, or overtime of more than 80 hours per month during a period from two months to six months.

In the heavy rains that hit western Japan, serious damage was caused on or around July 6, 2018. Officials of local governments became heavily tasked with reconstruction efforts and support activities for residents affected by the disaster.

The Asahi Shimbun surveyed the governments of the three prefectures and 43 municipalities that were covered by the Disaster Relief Law. Officials in managerial positions were excluded from the survey.

Of the total of 34,542 officials surveyed, 2,768, or 8 percent, worked overtime of more than 100 hours in July 2018. The figure was 26.6 times higher than the 104 officials, or 0.3 percent, in July 2017.

“(The sharp increase) is due to surveys of damaged buildings,” said an official of the Ozu city government in Ehime Prefecture.

“None of our officials worked (overtime of) more than 100 hours only for their conventional duties except for disaster-related ones,” said an official of the Hiroshima prefectural government.

The Hiroshima city government had the largest number of officials whose overtime hours exceeded the karoshi line. The figure was 498, or 8.7 percent of all its officials subject to the survey.

It was followed by the Ehime prefectural government with 227, or 7.4 percent; the Kure city government in Hiroshima Prefecture with 202, or 19.4 percent; and the Kurashiki city government in Okayama Prefecture with 199, or 16.9 percent. In Kurashiki, the Mabi district was submerged from the heavy rain.

Meanwhile, the ratio of officials exceeding the karoshi line was high in some of the municipalities where the number of officials subject to the survey was relatively small.

In Saka, Hiroshima Prefecture, where landslides occurred, the ratio was 96.6 percent.

“(The high percentage) was attributable to the fact that we conducted 24-hour-a-day shelter operations and stopgap reconstruction work with a limited number of officials,” said an official of the Saka town government.

The ratio was also as high as 61.4 percent for Soja, Okayama Prefecture, and 53.8 percent for Kumano, Hiroshima Prefecture.

“In times of large-scale disasters, local governments should be more active in transferring officials to divisions that need manpower,” said Hiroaki Inatsugu, professor of public administration at the Faculty of Political Science and Economics of Waseda University.

“If local government officials become exhausted due to overwork, reconstruction will be delayed. It will be disadvantageous for people affected by the disasters,” he added.