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‘Working for Long Hours Raised Deaths from Heart Disease, Stroke’

Latest estimates by World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO) published in Environment International, yesterday, revealed that working for long hours led to death of 745,000 persons from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016.

In a first global analysis of loss of life associated with working for long hours, WHO and ILO estimated that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 died from heart disease as a result of working for, 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 per cent, and from stroke by 19 per cent.


This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72 per cent of deaths occurred among males), 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 dying between age 60 and 79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.


The study concluded that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.


Further, the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at nine per cent of the total population globally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.


The new analysis came as the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating developments that could lead to increased working time. WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 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.”


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


According to WHO and ILO, governments, employers and workers can take the following actions to protect workers’ health: governments can introduce, implement and enforce 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 agreeing on a maximum number of working hours, and 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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