Circumstances prompting the suicide of 29-year-old Chang Pei-feng (張倍逢) last year have led the Council of Labor Affairs to rule that suicide driven by work stress is a form of occupational hazard.
In October last year, Chang leaped off a 25m-high platform at his workplace in the second factory of Formosa Plastics Group’s (FPG, 台塑集團) naphtha cracker in Yunlin County’s Mailiao Township (麥寮), ending his life only nine days prior to his planned wedding.
According to the council’s investigation, Chang had committed suicide because his superiors had not responded to his report on a contracted company working at the site that had not followed work safety regulations.
Because the plant had suffered numerous accidents last year, Chang felt he was unable to maintain safety at the plant at the level required of him, the council said, adding that just prior to jumping off the building, Chang had sent a text message to his friends and family saying that he would use his death to prove that he had done his best to carry out his duties.
Department of Labor Safety and Health Deputy Chief Chen Sen (陳森) said the council agreed to look into the matter in June and held two occupational disease investigation hearings, in which the council referenced Japan’s standards for recognizing vocational sicknesses for the first time.
“We found Chang may have been unable to process all the outside pressure — which happened in a short timeframe — due to work and hence committed suicide,” Chen said, adding that because of that, it could be said that Chang had died as a result of his job.
The decision reached by the hearings was also verified by psychiatrists, Chen said, adding that the council set a precedent for the country by listing suicide as a form of occupational hazard for the first time.
Chang’s father, who lives in Changhua City, said on Friday that the family had always thought of Chang’s death as due to occupational hazards and that they were glad the government had given them justice.
Saying that they had already taken the 35-month compensation given out upon Chang’s death, Chang’s father said the family was entitled to another 10 months because the death was due to occupational hazards, but said that had yet to be discussed with FPG.
Article 64 of the Labor Insurance Act (勞工保險條例) stipulates that in addition to the basic five-month compensation package, “in case the survivors of the insured person in preceding paragraph claim for a lump sum survivors’ allowance according to the third paragraph of Article 63, a forty-month package based on the insured’s average monthly insurance salary should be granted.”
FPG said it would respect the council’s decision and do its best to compensate the family for their loss, adding that it would also work with corporate medical systems to help staff members with psychiatric problems.
Meanwhile, the council’s Occupational Disease Verification Committee’s statistics this year have hit a record high for applications for occupational sickness verifications.
Between January and last month, there have been 48 cases asking to be recognized as occupational illnesses, the committee said, adding that musculature, bone or spinal cord problems — at 48 percent (23 cases) of the total — were the most prevalent, cardiopulmonary and brain-related diseases came in second at 23 percent (11 cases) and psychiatric or suicide cases resulting from work stress came in third at 21 percent (10 cases). However, the committee said that there were were 10 times the number of psychiatric or suicide cases as last year.
Although only seven out of 41 cases have been reviewed — five of which have been ruled as related to occupation-— the council also said that manic-depressive and cardiopulmonary disorders might not be purely caused by physical problems and may also be caused by stress from work.
Additional reporting by Wu Wei-kung and Chen Tsan-kun