Strain Victims Officially Certified

by Akihiko Kataoka
Kansai Occupational Safety and Health Center

More and more workers are using visual display terminals (VDTs) in their offices. Although people know that appropriate breaks effectively prevent health problems, they often find that such practices are not allowed in their workplaces. A large number of workers are probably exposed to health hazards due to operating VDT's. In the present severe business environment, a number of companies faced with deteriorating business performance may be inclined to dismiss these workers (or refuse to renew employment contracts) without taking any effective measures to help them.

A female temporary worker, Junko Iwata, is one such case. When she sensed a move by her temporary staffing company to dismiss her on the grounds of a one-week absence due to severe eye strain, she joined a community-based labor union in Osaka. On her behalf, the union negotiated with the company to preserve her employment, while it assisted her in applying for official certification of her eye strain as being occupationally induced. In July 1998 she won this certification and received labor insurance benefits.

Very few cases of eye strain are officially certified as work-related, although a number of cases of neck-shoulder-arm disorders officially certified as caused by VDT's have been reported. Another noteworthy case is that of an office worker with a national university who was certified as eligible for benefits under the Governmental Worker Accident Insurance because of his deteriorating health condition, which was diagnosed as "VDT syndrome" by an oculist to whom he was referred. The expert identified headache, nausea, vertigo, dizziness and inability to focus his eyes on documents as related to his intensive VDT work. However, the Ministry of Education the competent certifying authority in this case denied his certification based on this diagnosis of "DVT syndromes". Instead it awarded him with an occupational disease certification because of his eye strain only.

This case shows the reluctance of the authorities to extensively recognize health hazards caused by VDT operations. In the past the Ministry of Labor has limited VDT operations-related health hazards virtually to neck-shoulder-arm disorders. Indeed it has established formal certification criteria for these disorders. Whereas, no specific requirements have yet been established for occupational eye strain. Such cases have been handled on a case-by-case basis in the certification process. Although in a sense this approach may be favorable for some victims, as it allows them to avoid strict and often unacceptable requirements, it means, at the same time, that eye strain has not yet been established in the occupational disease category of the government-run labor insurance.

In contrast with the attitude of the Ministry of Labor, both oculists for Junko and the university office worker collaborated with the efforts to win occupational disease certification for the victims. They accepted complaints from the workers and identified the relationship between their complaints and their heavy workload of VDT operation. The association between intense VDT operation and asthenopic symptoms has probably been widely accepted.

VDT operation may cause many different hazards and disorders in the health conditions of workers. The Ministry of Labor has not yet formed a complete picture of VDT work-induced diseases. In order to raise consciousness about the health hazards generated by intense or inappropriate VDT operations, we should examine the occupational background to complaints by such workers, including neck-shoulder-arm disorders, eye strain, mental stress and psychiatric symptoms, without maintaining any biased viewpoints over individual dispositions or constitution.


Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC)
Z Bldg. 5F, 7-10-1 Kameido, Koto-ku, Tokyo 136-0071, Japan
FAX: 81-3-3636-3881