Long working hours have led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The study shows that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35 to 40 hours a week.
Published in Environment International of May 17, 2021, the report revealed that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.
Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42 per cent and from stroke by 19 per cent, says the report.
“This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men with 72 per cent of deaths occurred among males, people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers. Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years,” it added.
The new analysis comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours as the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.
According to WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking as become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work.
“In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”
Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO, Dr Maria Neira said, “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. It is time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.
The report, however, recommended that governments should introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
There should be collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations to ensure working time is more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
Employees also are advised to share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.