WHO study on long working hours and health

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Sarah Peddie

A World Health Organisation study has found that working long hours can have a severe impact on someone’s health.

Along with the International Labour Organisation this is the first ever global analysis between loss of life and health associated with long working hours.

Estimates have concluded that there were 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016 - which was a 29 per cent increase since 2000.

Around 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of working at least 55 hours a week. 

Between 2000 and 2016 the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours had increased by 42 per cent and from a stroke by 19 per cent.

It is particularly significant in men, 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 aged 60-79 years who had worked for 55 hours or more between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

Now that working long hours is known to be responsible for around one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.

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. 


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“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”.

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