Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke, claims WHO

The World Health Organization said that working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. 

Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke, claims WHO
Representational Image (Pixabay)

New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday (May 17, 2021) claimed that long working hours are increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke. 

Based on the latest estimates by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization (ILO) published in Environment International, the WHO said that long working hours led to 7,45,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000.

In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that, in 2016, nearly 4 lakh people died from a stroke and 3.47 lakh from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. 

According to the study, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours between 2000 and 2016 increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.

"This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72% of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers," the WHO said. 

It added that most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

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 35-40 hours a week.

It added that the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9% of the total population globally. 

"This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death," the WHO highlighted.

Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the latest evidence were conducted for this study. Data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 7.68 lakh participants and 22 studies on stroke covering over 8.39 lakh participants were synthesized.

The study, notably, covered global, regional and national levels, and was based on data from more than 2300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970-2018.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that 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," the WHO chief said.

Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization, said that working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. 

"It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death," Neira added. 

The WHO stated the following three actions that governments, employers and workers can take to protect workers' health:   

1. Governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.

2. Bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange a working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.

3. Employees could share working hours to ensure that the numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.   

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