Long working hours will kill you early, warns WHO

The latest data reveals that that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths. [Courtesy]

Long working hours threatens life expectancy, risks strokes and heart related diseases, World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

The latest data reveals that that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase from 2000.

The data published last week was combined by WHO in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO).

In its first global analysis, on loss of life and health-related diseases associated with exceeding 55 working hours a week, it is estimated that 398,000 people died from stroke in 2016, and 347,000 from heart-related diseases.

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart diseases associated with long working hours increased by 42 per cent, with that of stroke increasing by 19 per cent.

In its study, WHO concluded that working for 55 hours and more per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risks of stroke, and 17 per cent of dying from ischemic heart diseases, as compared to working between 35 and 40 hours a week. Ischemic heart diseases are as a result of inadequate supply of oxygen and blood to heart muscles.

Even with increased number of health complications and deaths, it is feared that the number of people working for long hours globally is on the rise, and stands at 9 per cent of the total population.

“This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death,” cautions WHO.

In the findings, burden of work-related diseases is higher in men, more so among those living in Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, in both middle and older workers.

“This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72 per cent of deaths occurred among males),” noted the report.

Long working hours attributes to about a third of total estimated work-related burden of diseases, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.

WHO established the high disease burden as a relatively new health-related element and more psycho-social occupational risk factors to human health.

With the Covid-19 pandemic, employees are reported to work for long hours, at home, with majority failing to manage working hours, an issue that increases more working hours.

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

Dr Adhanom noted that employers are demanding deliveries from employees while at home, through telecommunication and internet.

"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." He said adding that 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 addition, Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO noted that government, employers and employees should understand that long working hours can lead to premature death.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr Neira.

As a mitigation, governments, employers and employees have been advised to introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulation and policies that ban mandatory overtime, and ensure maximum limits on working time.

WHO also advises employers and employees to come up with collective bargaining agreements, that arrange flexible working hours.

Employees are also advised to share working hours to ensure working hours do not exceed 55 hours. 

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