Day 820

One of the French companies worst affected by suicides has been the telecommunications giant, France Télécom/Orange, where 12 employees took their own life in 2008, nineteen in 2009, 27 in 2010 and 11 in 2011. Despite a new agreement on workplace conditions negotiated with the trade unions, there has been a renewal of suicides in recent years with eleven cases in 2013 and ten suicides in 2014.

Suicides took place at a time when the company was restructuring, including a plan to cut 22,000 jobs in three years. Suicidal individuals shared a similar profile: these were typically skilled male engineers or technicians in their fifties who had been forcibly redeployed into low-skilled roles, often in call-centres.

On 17 January 2014, a 42-year old employee dealing with business customers at a France Télécom/Orange office in Paris, threw himself under a suburban train on his way to work. His sister, who is pursuing a claim against the company, contends that her brother had repeatedly complained to his bosses that he was a victim of bullying by his manager. Occupational doctors had also reported a deterioration of working conditions at the agency where he worked, with a rise of workplace stress as a result of company restructuring. Prior to his suicide, the victim had sent e-mails to family members complaining of an unmanageable workload and of constant surveillance and he referred to “humiliation”, “intimidation” and “bullying”. He held several meetings with senior management where he complained of harassment by his manager. Five days before his suicide, he sent an e-mail to his head of service in which he reiterated his request to change teams. These e-mail exchanges are being used as evidence in the investigation by the public authorities into his suicide.

Whilst in France work place suicides are an urgent public health phenomenon, in the UK, despite severe deterioration in working conditions, workplace suicide is not recognised in legislation and there are no specific official mechanisms for data collection. Even when it takes place in the workplace, suicide is presumed to be an individual and voluntary act and according to Health and Safety Executive (2016) legislation: “All deaths to workers and non-workers, with the exception of suicides, must be reported if they arise from a work-related accident.”

(Source: When work kills : http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/JPMH-06-2016-0026?mobileUi=0&journalCode=jpmh)

Day 796

Who said hard work won’t kill you?

They have a specific term for it in Japan – ‘Karoshi’.
It means death from overwork. One fifth of the workforce in Japan is at risk of it. 2000 people die of work related stress every year and many others due to heart attacks, strokes, suicides and other serious health problems, giving rise to resignations, law suits and calls to tackle the problem. Japanese salarymen work significantly longer hours than their counterparts in other modern economies.

Ichiro Oshima, a 24-year-old Dentsu (an advertising firm with a notorious reputation) employee, killed himself in 1991 in Japan’s first recognised case of karoshi-related suicide. Oshima had not had a day off for 17 months and was sleeping for less than two hours a night before his death.

The number of suicides and attempted suicides in the City of London (the financial district) has doubled in the first 8 months of this year, particularly from bridges. Could that have something to do with the brutally competitive atmosphere in the Square Mile? Officers are making more use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act to take people to a place of safety, usually a hospital. Ambulances are often unavailable so officers resort to using police vans, almost criminalising people by transporting them thus. Invariably when patients are assessed they are not deemed to meet the threshold of admission to a mental hospital and released. Police are asking NHS Trusts to provide details of patients so they know if they have been released so that they can be put a plan in place to safeguard them.

City police have also set up a Bridges Working Group including officials from NHS mental health trusts, the Samaritans, the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institute) and the Coastguard.

Only a small percentage of employers in the UK have family-friendly policies or personal support services in place so as to achieve a good work-life balance. Although it is improving, we still have a long way to go.

Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/29/head-of-japans-top-ad-firm-to-quit-after-new-recruits-death-from-overwork?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Email

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/18/death-from-overwork-japans-karoshi-culture-blamed-young-mans-heart-failure

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/oct/08/japan-one-fifth-of-employees-at-risk-of-death-from-overwork-report

https://www.rethink.org/living-with-mental-illness/police-courts-prison/section-136-police-taking-you-to-a-place-of-safety-from-a-public-place