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Basic Policy of Labour Standards Administration for Fiscal 2000
-Announcement by the Ministry of Labour-

(translated by JICOSH)

The Ministry of Labour has recently established the Basic Policy of Labour Standards Administration for Fiscal 2000, which has been issued to Prefectural Labour Bureaus throughout the country.

This policy is announced every year to clearly and concisely define the basic policy in the field of labour standards administration, thus promoting administrative activities in a uniform, systematic and effective manner, as well as ensuring understanding and cooperation in labour standards administration by the entire nation, including workers and employers.

The content of the basic policy is as follows:

February 2000
Labour Standards Bureau,
Ministry of Labour

Overview of Labour Standards Administration for Fiscal 2000

I. Circumstances and Problems Surrounding Labour Standards Administration

1.Socio-economic Situation

(1) Overview

When examining the recent trends in the Japanese economy, it is clear that Japan is continuing to achieve steady economic improvements thanks to the recovery in Asian economies and other favorable factors, in addition to the effects of various domestic policy measures. However, consumer spending in general still appears to be struggling to achieve a sustained recovery in the wake of low personal income and high unemployment rates due to the continuing moves of industries towards reducing employment. In particular, trends in private demand, which is a key factor in supporting autonomous economic recovery, still remain less than strong.

The employment situation is also encountering a head wind with the perfect unemployment rate remaining at a high level despite increases in overtime working hours and other favorable trends.

Under these circumstances, and based on the recognition that promoting activities in the private sector is the most important policy agenda to achieve autonomous economic recovery, the government is making efforts to support and encourage diverse business operations by small and medium-sized enterprises and venture businesses, to promote deregulation and system reforms in the fields of growth industries and business infrastructure, and to implement various policy measures to create and stabilize employment. These efforts are aimed at trying to mitigate public concern about the employment situation.

(2) Circumstances Surrounding Labour Standards Administration

Reflecting these socio-economic conditions, a number of suspected violations of laws and regulations relating to labour standards are notified to labour standards inspection offices nationwide. At the same time, requests for advice on worsening working conditions, such as dismissal, wages and working hours, have been sent to these offices

Moreover, rapid changes in the industrial structure are accelerating corporate reorganization and the reconstruction of businesses at an unprecedented speed. Because of their significant effects on the labour market, these trends have become the recent focus of public concern. For example, a number of workers have been transferred to affiliated companies or other positions, or subject to forced retirement due to changes in the economic structure.

In 1999, workers averaged total of 1,842 actual working hours per year, versus 1,709 scheduled working hours. This represented a decrease of 37 and 33 hours respectively, from the figures for 1998, and marked a historic low for these data.

Although casualties due to industrial accidents have been declining over the long term, about 570,000 workers suffer from accidents in 1999, and the fatal accidents is expected to increase over the figure recorded in the previous year.

In addition, a number of serious accidents including one that led to a criticality event at a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Tokai village, have caused significant public concern.

A similar trend can be seen in conditions surrounding worker health. While the incidence of occupational diseases has been falling over the long term, the figure for 1999 rose slightly compared to that for the previous year, with significant number of cases of pneumoconiosis, low-back pain and organic solvent poisoning.

At the same time, in line with the rapid aging of society and a changing industrial structure, more than 40 percent of all workers have shown some positive findings in health examination, leading to cerebral or cardiovascular disorders. Moreover, an increasing number of workers appear to be experiencing serious stress or anxiety concerning their working lives as a result of the recent sluggish economic situation.

Moreover, reflecting the severe employment conditions in recent years, claims for workmen's accident compensation insurance include an increasing number of cases involving "karoshi" (death due to overwork) or mental disorders. These trends are becoming an important focus of public concerns, and it is feared that similar claims will increase in the near future.

2. Challenges Facing Labour Standards Administration

(1) Securing and improving working conditions under the current severe economic conditions:

It is clear that working conditions are deteriorating and dismissal due to reasons attributable to employers are increasing under the current severe environment surrounding business operations and rapid socio-economic changes. These trends have also been negatively affecting our efforts to secure and maintain statutory working conditions at the proper level. It is feared that such negative conditions would continue further.

However, statutory working conditions must be observed under whatever the economic environment may be. In the current economic climate, public concern about working conditions is becoming stronger than ever.

Accordingly, considering that the role of labour inspections and guidance in observing the level of working conditions is becoming especially important, it is necessary to actively promote measures to maintain and improve working conditions in general.

To deal with disputes related to working conditions, the necessary information must be provided to promote voluntary settlements and to support the activities and operation of dispute resolution assistance systems, and to respond to the nation's expectations of labour standards administration.

(2) Problems relating to working hours

In order to achieve and firmly implanting the target of 1,800 total actual working hours per year, which is included among priority policy measures adopted by the Cabinet in July of 1999 ands spelled out in "Socio-Economic Goals and Policy Direction of the New Economy," we have to endeavor to further reduce working hours.

To this end, it is necessary to achieve strict compliance with the principle of 40 working hours per week and other standards relating to working hours, such as the "Standards for Limiting Overtime Working Hours" under the Labour Standards Law.

At the same time, in order to achieve the purpose of a discretionary labour system such as planning work for planning work that has been established on the basis of the Labour Standards Law, it is necessary to make efforts to achieve a better understanding of the system, as well as promote its greater dissemination and provide for further guidance. In particular, the system will be correctly and effectively utilized to help companies appropriately manage the working hours of workers engaged in planning and similar work. It is also indispensable to provide better working environments to these types of workers in which they can demonstrate their capabilities through autonomous and creative working styles.

In addition, it is necessary to ensure a better understanding of assistance systems to reduce working hours in workplaces subject to special exemption measures, and to promote voluntary efforts by both workers and employers for the reduction of working hours in ways that meet the specific conditions of various industrial types and operational sizes.

(3) Problems relating to securing worker safety and health

Considering the current high incidence of industrial accidents, including the rising trend in fatal accidents, the government intends to develop diverse measures to significantly reduce the level of industrial accidents on the basis of the 9th Industrial Accident Prevention Program. These efforts will be applied in particular to the construction industry, in which a number of fatal accidents are occurring.

We will also endeavor to realize the proposals of the Conference on Safety Countermeasures for the Prevention of Accidents, which was established by the government after an accident leading to a criticality event at a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Tokai village. These proposals call for creating a "safety-focused culture" in which both individual citizens and organizations will promote social trends and encourage the public's willingness to give safety the highest priority.

It is also necessary to promote measures to secure worker health, including improving worker health control, and promoting industrial health activities. This includes encouraging the better management of chemical substances through the active utilization of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for chemical substances, etc., disseminating occupational health and safety management system(ohsms), and helping workplaces improve the level of safety and health activities by themselves.

(4) Problems relating to the Workmen's Accident Compensation Insurance System

In recent years, the number of workers with various health problems has been increasing as shown by a rising rate of positive findings in periodic medical examinations. In particular, cases of cerebral and cardiovascular disorders due to excessive work are increasing, and karoshi (death which is caused by overwork)cases are also causing serious public concern. To respond to these changing conditions, the Workmen's Accident Compensation Insurance System must undertake measures to support various systems and measures to maintain worker health, especially to prevent cerebral and cardiovascular disorders.

Labour welfare programs are also facing a number of major problems. The biggest issue the Workmen's Accident Compensation Insurance System must deal with is the problem of declining premium revenues due to decreases in the incidence of industrial accidents, the rapid development of tertiary industries and the lingering economic recession, while the number of rosai (workers' compensation)pension recipients, which are the major target of the program, is increasing. These trends call for effective management of system operations by ensuring transparency and stability in its operations.

For compensation claims relating to complicated and difficult cases such as karoshi and mental disorders, it is necessary to reach decisions for compensation payments on a reasonable basis and process such claims in a short time.

It is also indispensable to adopt systematic approaches to care for those who are seriously injured or impaired, as heavy burdens are now shouldered by the families of victims in a society where the trend is moving towards nuclear families and victims and caretakers are rapidly aging.

II. Priority Measures in Labour Standards Administration in Fiscal 2000

1. Securing and Improving Working Conditions in the Face of Severe Economic Conditions (Omitted)

2. Promotion Measures for Working Hours (Omitted)

3. Measures for Worker Safety and Health Improvement

(1) Development of measures to further improve the safety and health level at workplaces

(a) Promoting the dissemination of the occupational health and safety management system(ohsms):

Promotional Activities for the Dissemination of the Occupational Health and Safety Management System(ohsms) will be encouraged and efforts will be made to widely disseminate the occupational health and safety management system(ohsms) in the manufacturing, construction and other industries in cooperation with industrial accident prevention organizations.

(b) Promoting voluntary safety and health management activities:

As a trial case, consulting systems for small and medium-sized enterprises will be improved to help them actively develop safety and health management activities.

At the same time, safety and health activities among small-sized enterprise organizations and their member workplaces will be encouraged by implementing an Assistance Program for Organizations of Small Scale Workplaces, Etc., to Develop Safety and Health Activities.

(c) Enhancing safety and health consciousness:

The commendation system will be continued for foremen who demonstrate excellent performance in terms of safety to strengthen their commitment to safety management as they play a core role in industrial accident prevention. The safety and health consciousness of worker groups associated with foremen with high safety records will also be enhanced by effectively implementing a Network Program of Foremen with Excellent Safety Performance.

In addition, for workers who have been engaged in site operations for a specified period of time after completing skill training courses, opportunities for reeducation in work safety and the recognition of work dangers will be provided, particularly with respect to training on vehicle-type construction machines (for excavation work). And safety and health committee activities will be encouraged.

(d) Improving functions to provide safety and health information:

In order to help employers improve their safety and health education programs, safety and health information, including information on accident cases and chemical substances, will be provided at Japan advanced Information Center of Safety and Health(JAISH). In addition, effective safety and health education will be implemented through advanced audio-visual media.

(2) Developing measures to significantly decrease industrial accidents

(a) Promoting measures to prevent industrial accidents in the construction industry:

Effective measures will be continued on the basis of the notification concerning the Promotion of Comprehensive Industrial Accident Prevention Measures in the Construction Industry.

In particular, the safety level among small and medium-sized general contractors will be improved through the smooth implementation of the Program to Improve the Guidance Capabilities of Small and Medium-Sized General Contractors. The safety management capabilities of specialty contractors will be improved and safety and heath education for safety and health controllers will be promoted through the Program to Promote Safety Management Activities, Etc., by Specialty Contractors, which entered a new cycle from fiscal 2000.

With respect to construction work for wooden houses and other low-rise residences, a construction method that first installs scaffolding in the construction process will be promoted and firmly established to prevent accidents involving falls from high places, by ensuring the widespread adoption of the Guidelines for a construction method that first installs scaffolding in the construction process and the smooth deployment of the Model Program to Promote Safety Measures in the Construction Work of Wooden Houses and Other Low-Rise Residences.

At the same time, safety management systems will be reexamined when contractors and facility owners carry out such management in maintenance, inspection and remodeling work.

In addition, considering that one of the characteristics of the construction industry is the necessity for safety management through the cooperative activities of branch office of contractors and construction sites, efforts to encourage the penetration of occupational health and safety management system(ohsms)s in the construction industry will be promoted.

(b) Promoting measures to prevent traffic-related industrial accidents:

A better understanding and broader dissemination of the Guidelines for Measures to Prevent Traffic-Related Industrial Accidents will be ensured and the Promotion Program for Measures to Prevent Traffic-Related Industrial Accidents will be encouraged.

At the same time, education for the supervisors in charge of the prevention of traffic-related industrial accidents and for vehicle drivers will be promoted.

In addition, better communications with administrative agencies, including police stations and district land transportation bureaus and other related organizations will be promoted, by holding liaison conferences of organizations for the prevention of traffic-related industrial accidents.

(c) Promoting measures to prevent industrial accidents in tertiary industries:

Measures to prevent industrial accidents in tertiary industries will be promoted in a comprehensive manner.

At the same time, guidelines to prevent industrial accidents on the basis of industry-specific activities will be facilitated for better understanding and broader dissemination.

In addition, a new "Program to Improve the Infrastructure for Safety and Health Activities in Growth Industries (Tentative Name)" will be implemented.

(d) Promoting measures to prevent industrial accidents in machinery:

In order to prevent industrial accidents during the operation of wood processing machines and press machines, measures will be taken to improve the inherent safety of these machines and to ensure safety in machine operation. As slinging work account for a high ratio of crane-related accidents, Guidelines for Safe Slinging Work (Tentative Name) will be facilitated for better understanding of such issues.

At the same time, guidelines will be established to disseminate comprehensive standards covering all machinery for the prevention of machinery-related accidents.

In addition, the Guidelines for Information Disclosure by Manufacturers to Users (Tentative Name) will be established and broadly disseminated.

(e) Promoting measures for the prevention of explosions and fire-related accidents:

Measures will be thoroughly promoted to prevent explosions and fire-related accidents in the chemical industry and the Guidelines Relating to Safety Assessments in Chemical Plants will be promoted to improve public understanding and awareness. Measures will also be taken to prevent explosions and fire-related accidents in waste processing operations.

(f) Promoting measures to prevent industrial accidents involving aged workers:

In line with the graying of society in general, the number of aged workers is expected to increase further. To deal with this situation, research and surveys will be carried out from an ergonomic point of view concerning the establishment of better working environments in which aged workers can work comfortably.

(3) Deployment of measures to ensure worker health

(a) Improving health management of workers engaged in midnight work:

The smooth implementation of the voluntary medical examination system for workers engaged in midnight work will be promoted by encouraging the utilization of the Program to Encourage Midnight Workers to Undergo Voluntary Medical Examinations (Tentative Name).

(b) Improving measures to secure worker health at small sized workplaces:

Measures will be taken to activate programs and improve services at local industrial health centers, to promote the joint appointment of industrial physicians and to improve the rate of worker participation in medical examinations.

(c) Improving measures to support industrial health staff:

The implementation of practical training for industrial health staff will be comprehensively examined and programs at prefectural industrial health promotion centers will be supported.

(d) Promoting measures to maintain and improve health at small and medium-sized workplaces:

A new Program to Improve Worker Health at Small- and Medium-Sized Workplaces will be implemented to support measures for Total Health Promotion programs covering both mental and physical health.

(e) Actively responding to health problems such as mental stress at workplaces:

The Guidelines for the Promotion of Mental Health (Tentative Name) will be provided to improve support systems for measures dealing with mental stress at workplaces.

(f) Providing support to workers at Rosai hospitals in terms of mental health problems and strengthening the relationship with medical organizations designated for Rosai patients:

Facilities will be established in Rosai hospitals that provide consultations through the Internet and telephone. The mental health information and know-how that Rosai hospitals have acquired will be provided to Rosai-designated medical organizations, industrial physicians, prefectural industrial health centers and local industrial health centers. At the same time, goals for a physician registration system connecting hospitals and clinics with Rosai hospitals as core organizations will be examined to identify effective implementation.

(g) Promoting measures to prevent occupational diseases:

For measures to prevent hazards due to dust, the steps outlined in the Fifth Comprehensive Measures to Prevent Health Impairment due to Dust will be further promoted and the Model Program to Prevent Health Impairment due to Dust will be supported for its smooth development. In addition, in order to promote measures against dust in tunnel construction work, Guidelines for Measures against Dust in Tunnel Construction Work (tentative name)will be prepared and widely disseminated. The Dust Mask Structural Standards will be amended and facilitated to ensure better understanding by the general public.

For measures to prevent lead poisoning, the Ordinance on Prevention of Lead Poisoning will be amended and guidelines for the periodic voluntary inspection of push-pull-type ventilators will be established to accelerate the introduction of this type of ventilator. The contents of the ordinance and guidelines will be widely disseminated to ensure better understanding by the general public.

Considering recent changes in VDT work conditions, the Guidelines for Industrial Health for VDT Work will be reexamined.

(h) Strengthening safety and health management measures at nuclear facilities, etc.:

Efforts will be made to ensure the thorough implementation of measures to prevent industrial accidents at nuclear facilities, including measures relating to exposure at the time of handling nuclear fuel materials, etc., at these facilities, by smooth implementation of the Ordinance on Prevention of Ionizing Radiation Hazards (amended).

In addition, further amendments to the Ordinance on Prevention of Ionizing Radiation Hazards will be examined to adopt the 1990 recommendations of the International Committee for Radiation Protection (ICRP). The contents of these amendments will be publicized to ensure better understanding and guidance will be provided from April 1, 2001 to facilitate their smooth implementation.

(i) Promoting measures to prevent health hazards due to chemical substances:

The chemical substance management system will be promoted by actively utilizing the MSDS system to prevent health hazards due to chemical substances.

The outline of measures to prevent health hazards due to dioxin and similar substances will be publicized for better understanding, and surveys on worker health conditions at waste incinerators will be continued.

(4) Promoting the creation of comfortable working environments

Management methods will be established to continue systematic efforts for creating comfortable working environments on the basis of worker comments and suggestions. Smoking countermeasures at workplaces will also be promoted by reexamining the educational curriculum for personnel in charge of smoking measures at workplaces.

(5) Promoting safety and health measures in response to internationalization

Efforts will be made to cooperate with the establishment of guidelines for the ILO occupational health and safety management system(ohsms) and to respond to international moves, including mutual ratification of standards authentication system for machines, etc.

The activities of Japan International Center for Occupational Safety and Health to provide overseas information on safety and health will be further promoted.

(6) Response to deregulation measures

Appropriate measures will be adopted for matters specified in the Three-Year Deregulation Program (adopted by the Cabinet on March 31, 1998).

(7) Promoting scientific and technological research in the safety and health field:

National Institute of Industrial Safety and the National Institute of Industrial Health will initiate preparations to be reorganized as independent corporations. These institutes will also promote comprehensive studies on how to reduce industrial accidents and occupational diseases, as well as ways to deal with safety and health issues in view of the current technological innovations.

(7) Response to the Conference on Safety Countermeasures for the Prevention of Accidents:

The government has established the Conference on Safety Countermeasures for the Prevention of Accidents to deal with the high incidence of industrial accidents. On the basis of reports issued by this Conference, appropriate measures will be taken to improve activities relating to safety and health consciousness, organization management and education and training.

4. Promotion of Measures for Workmen's Accident Compensation Insurance (Omitted)

III. Basic Responses in Labour Standards Administration (Omitted)