WHO: Long hours at work is killing people worldwide

A woman cleans the stairs of an underground train entrance while businessmen exit the station in Tokyo. Working 55-plus hours per week is “a serious health habit,” the study finds.

Overwork is killing people worldwide, sometimes decades after they finish putting in the long hours, a new study indicates. Specifically, putting in long hours led to 745,000 stroke and ischemic heart disease deaths in 2016, 29% more than in 2000, the World Health Organization said Monday.

The study, conducted by WHO and the International Labour Organization and published in Environment International, was the first global analysis of loss of life and health related to long hours, the global bodies said.

In 2016, 398,000 people died of stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked 55 or more hours a week, the researchers said in a statement. Heart disease deaths due to overwork increased by 42% from 2000 to 2016, and 19% for stroke.

Men impacted most

Nearly three-quarters of those deaths occurred in men, with the most affected people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, the WHO and ILO said. most of them died between ages 60 and 79 and had worked 55 or more hours per week when they were 45 to 74.

Working 55-plus hours per week “is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week,” the study found.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of WHO’s department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, in a statement. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death.”

‘Occupational risk factor’

The coronavirus pandemic compounded the situation by “significantly” changing the way people work, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the statement.

“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” Ghebreyesus said.

“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 new findings make working long hours an occupational risk factor, the researchers said, highlighting a need for “a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health.”

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