According to new estimates from the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization (ILO) published in Environment International earlier this month, long working hours were a contributing factor to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000.
The first global study analyzing the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that, in 2016, 398 000 people died from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease after 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%, and from stroke by 19%.
This work-related disease burden is especially prominent in men (72% 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.
With working long hours now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden. This shifts thinking towards a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health.
The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.
Further, the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9% of the total population globally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and
The new analysis comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours; the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time. New independent research from NordVPN Teams and Wildgoose shows that employees who work from home are spending longer at their desks and facing a bigger workload than before the onset of COVID-19. Reasons cited include difficulty in “switching off of our ‘work mode’, temptation to answer emails at all times and losing track of time as there is no impetus to leave.
In a statement by WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who noted, “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking has 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.”
“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” added Dr Maria Neira, Director,
Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization. “It’s
time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working
hours can lead to premature death”.
The WHO made the following recommendations for governments, employers and workers to protect
-governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time;
-bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours; -employees could record their working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.