Governments across the globe have been urged to consider implementing maximum working times as new research from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) reveals three quarters of a million workers died from long working hours.
The data, published in scientific journal Environment International, reveals long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, up 29% since 2000.
The WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.
And it believes between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%.
This trend 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.
Most deaths recorded were among people 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 linked 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.
Commenting on the data, 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.
Dr Maria Neira, director of the department of environment, climate change and health at the World Health Organization, added: “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”.
Consequently, the bodies suggest governments, employers and workers 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 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.