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Int J Health Serv. 1997;27(4):625-41.

Karoshi--death from overwork: occupational health consequences of Japanese production management.

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Department of Preventive Medicine, Shiga University of Medical Science, Otsu, Japan.


There is considerable international interest in Japanese production management (JPM), known in the West as "lean production." Advocates of this new form of management argue that it improves both economic productivity and health. In Japan, however, the relationship between JPM and sudden death due to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease has been an important topic of debate since the 1970s. Japanese have named these types of deaths karoshi, which means "death from overwork." In North America and Western Europe a number of studies have demonstrated a significant relationship between high job strain (high production demands and low levels of control and social support) and cardiovascular disease. This article reviews the elements of JPM and examines their potential health consequences. The authors present an overview of karoshi, discuss its possible connections to specific ideological and organizational characteristics of JPM, and suggest the job strain mechanism as a possible pathway between karoshi and JPM. They conclude by discussing the need for comparative research that examines the health effects of work organization and management methods cross-culturally.

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