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WHO Study Shows Long Working Hours Kills 745,000 People a Year

WHO Study Shows Long Working Hours Kills 745,000 People a Year
17 May 2021
 

In the first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, it's been shown that working excessive hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016.

According to the latest estimates by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation, in 2016, 398,000 people died from a 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.

 

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”

–Dr Maria Neira

Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, World Health Organisation

 

Men More Susceptible to Work-Related Disease

 

This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (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.

The study concludes 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 35-40 hours a week.

Furthermore, the number of people working long hours is increasing and currently stands at 9 per cent of the total population globally.  This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

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.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.

"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 of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organisation.

“It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.

 

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WHO Recommendations 

 

WHO recommends that governments, employers and workers can take the following actions to protect workers’ health:   

  • Introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time;
  • Arrange working times to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours;
  • Share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.   

 

Picture: a photograph of a person speaking on a mobile phone, facing away from the camera

Article written by Ella Tansley | Published 17 May 2021

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