No fewer than 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease as a result of long working hours were recorded in 2016.
Latest estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) showed that the death figure represented an increase of 29 per cent since 2000.
These estimates were contained in a study titled “Global, regional, and national burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke attributable to exposure to long working hours for 194 countries, 2000–2016: A systematic analysis from the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-related Burden of Disease and Injury.”
The study comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours, and accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.
‘No Job Is Worth The Risk’
WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, believes the pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work, noting that teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work.
He said, “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.”
In her reaction, WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr Maria Neira, warned that Working 55 hours or more per week was a serious health hazard.
She, therefore, called on governments, employers, and employees to wake up to the fact that long working hours could lead to premature death.
According to the analysis published in Environment International on Monday, WHO and ILO broke down the figure which revealed that 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.
This indicates that between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease and stroke due to working long hours increased by 42 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.
Ban Mandatory Overtime
“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,” part of an article published on WHO’s website read.
It added, “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.”
Working 55 or more hours per week rather than to work 35-40 hours a week, the study concludes, 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.
It noted that the number of people working long hours was increasing and stood at nine per cent of the total population globally – a trend that puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
On ways to tackle the alarming death trend, WHO and ILO advised governments to introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations, and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
They also suggested bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations that could arrange a working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
Employees were also advised to share working hours to ensure that number of hours worked does not climb above 55 or more per week.