Long working hours kill 745,000 people a year, study finds

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Emergency services are caring for a man who suffered a stroke in Madrid, Spain.

Europa Press News | Europa Press | Getty Images

Long working hours kill hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year, according to a study by the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

In joint research conducted by global public health and employment agencies, WHO and ILO estimated that there were 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, an increase by 29% since 2000.

The study, published Monday in the journal Environment International, was a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours.

WHO and ILO estimated that 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 after working at least 55 hours per week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to long working hours increased by 42% and from stroke by 19%.

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The study found that working 55 hours or more per week was associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35 to 40 hours per week. In 2016, 488 million people worldwide were exposed to long working hours of more than 55 hours per week, according to the WHO and the ILO.

The “work-related disease burden” was found to be particularly significant among men (72% of deaths occurred in men), people living in the Western Pacific (where WHO includes China, South Korea , Australia and Japan, among other countries) and parts of Southeast Asia, and middle-aged and older workers, the WHO said on Monday.

“Most of the recorded deaths were among deceased people aged 60 to 79, who had worked 55 or more hours per week between 45 and 74 years old,” the organization added.

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“With long working hours now known to be responsible for around a third of the total estimated burden of occupational disease, it is established as the risk factor with the greatest burden of occupational disease.

The WHO-ILO study included an analysis of 37 studies of ischemic heart disease and 22 studies of stroke, as well as data from more than 2,300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970 to 2018.

Disturbing trend

Although the study did not cover the period of the pandemic, the findings come at a time when the number of people working long hours is increasing and currently represents 9% of the total population worldwide, the WHO said. , adding: “This trend puts even more people at risk of incapacity for work and premature death.”

The coronavirus pandemic has also placed more emphasis on working hours with the WHO warning that the pandemic is accelerating developments that could fuel the trend of increasing working hours.

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WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the pandemic “has dramatically changed the way many people work”.

“Telecommuting has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the lines between home and work. Additionally, many businesses have been forced to scale down or shut down to save money, and people who still get paid end up working longer. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers must work together to agree on limits to protect workers’ health, ”he said.

The WHO recommended that governments “introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that prohibit compulsory overtime and guarantee maximum limits of working time” and suggested that employees could share working hours to ensure that the number of hours worked does not exceed 55 or more per week.

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