Deaths from stroke and heart disease increased by long working hours

Deaths from stroke and heart disease increased by long working hours

According to new estimates, long working hours have led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016 – a 29% increase since 2000.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization, published in Environment International, show that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease because of working at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.

These work-related deaths are particularly significant in men, with 72% of deaths occurring among males, as well as in people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers. Most deaths recorded were among people aged 60 to 79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

Work is contributing to early deaths

The study concludes that 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 ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35 to 40 hours a week.

The new analysis comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours; the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly 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.

“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.”

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” added Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization. “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 WHO has recommended that governments, employers, and workers can prevent deaths and protect workers’ health by:
  • Introducing, implementing, and enforcing laws, regulations, and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time
  • bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours
  • employees could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week
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