People who work more than 55 hours a week are more likely to die from a stroke or heart problem, the first global study analysing the link between the loss of life and health associated with working long hours found.
A study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) published on Monday estimated that, in 2016, 398,00 people died from a stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked long hours.
“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 WHO Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, said.
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 heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week, the study found.
Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.
The results of the study come at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic is shining a spotlight on managing working hours, and the WHO expects the rising trend to continue due to the coronavirus crisis, which has 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,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General.
The study also found that the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9% of the total population globally, “putting even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.”
Both organisations gave suggestions on how workers’ health can be protected, from governments introducing, implementing and enforcing laws, regulations and policies to ban mandatory overtime to employers and workers’ associations coming to agreements on working time to be more flexible.