Third fatality in Tokyo 2020 construction process highlights dangers of heat stress

16 August 2019 01:16

On 8 August a 50-year-old construction worker died of suspected heatstroke while laying a cable outside the Tokyo Big Sight exhibition centre, which is being renovated to be used as a media centre for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics. The worker was found unconscious and subsequently taken to the hospital, where he later died. Temperatures in Japan have soared in recent weeks, killing at least 57 people across the country. At the time of the death temperatures in Tokyo was 35.5 degrees Celsius.

The Tokyo Olympic Organising Committee (TOGOC) released a public statement stating that the “cause of the death was unknown” and they would provide more details once they have further information.  They further indicated that the local police had concluded there was no need “to proceed with a criminal investigation.”

“Our thoughts are with the workers’ family and co-workers who should never endure this tragedy,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Heat stress and work pressure are major concerns in the construction industry, and employers should be actively implementing safety measures  to deal with them. With climate change driving new weather extremes across the world as we are seeing in Japan at the moment, these issues need to be at the forefront of discussions with workers, their employers, and trade unions.”

This is the third fatality in the Tokyo 2020 construction process. In July 2017 a young worker engaged on the New National Stadium committed suicide after working 190 hours of overtime in a single month, citing extreme work pressure as the major factor in his death. In January 2018 a worker was crushed to death while directing a load suspended by crane. The BWI submitted a complaint on this fatality; however, it was rejected by the Tokyo 2020 Grievance Mechanism on the grounds that it fell outside of their jurisdiction.

This fatality comes just months after the BWI published a report, “The Dark Side of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics”, noting that there had been insufficient action on occupational safety and health following the two fatalities that had already taken place. Commenting on that report, Yuson warned that if working conditions on Tokyo Olympic construction did not improve then more fatalities were likely.

“Our report to the agencies involved in the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic construction efforts highlighted a wide range of issues that influence occupational safety and health, including long working hours, poor industrial relations and a fragmented grievance redressal system,” said Yuson. “In light of this third tragic fatality, we strongly hope that the organizer of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games will meet with BWI to discuss concrete measures to ensure safety and health and labour rights for workers who are essential to the success of the Games.”