The World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation announced today that long working hours kill around 750,000 people a year from strokes and heart disease. This is a 29 percent increase since 2000, with 398 000 people dying from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease.
This groundbreaking global study revealed that workload-related deaths are most 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 deaths were amongst people aged 60-79 years, who worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.
Three-quarters of those who die as a result of these long working hours are middle-aged or older men. These deaths can also cause health conditions later on in life; potentially decades after the hours were worked.
Dr Maria Neira, Director for the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization said that;
“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”.
The results of the study concluded that working more than 55 hours a week increases your risk of a stroke by 35%, and heart disease by 17% in comparison to a 35-40 hour week.
WHO technical officer Frank Pega said;
“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,
This is certainly true of the UK with the Office for National Statistics finding that on average, Brits are putting in around six hours of unpaid overtime a week. People who don’t work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime.
With this in mind, capping hours can be beneficial for employers as a set time increases productivity, and as Mr Pega said;
“It’s really a smart choice to not increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”
The study has only looked at 2016, so looking at the effects of remote working on health will be important. The WHO officials have said that the economic slowdown might also have increased risks associated with longer working hours.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General has said;
“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.”
The number of people working long hours is constantly increasing and currently stands at 9% of the world’s population. This study comes at a time when the pandemic is accelerating working situations that are allowing the quickening of the trend towards increased working time.