Three-quarters of a million people across the world are dying each year because they are working long hours, a major study has found.
Researchers from the World Health Organization estimate that in 2016, some 745,000 people died from strokes and heart disease associated with working 55 hours or more a week – nearly 30% more than in 2000.
And the coronavirus pandemic could make matters worse, they added.
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The study concludes that there’s a 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease (heart problems caused by narrowed heart arteries), for those working 55 hours or more a week compared with a 35 to 40-hour working week.
Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, said: “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard.
“What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers.”
Nearly three-quarters (72%) of victims were men who were middle-aged or older and who often died years after they worked the long hours.
Most of the deaths recorded were among people aged 60 to 79 who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74.
The most affected are people living in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region, which the WHO defines as an area including China, Japan and Australia.
Although the study covered the period 2000-2016, WHO officials said the coronavirus pandemic could make matters worse in the future.
Working from home can blur the boundaries between work and non-work, while workloads have increased as companies have been forced to make cutbacks during lockdown, they said.
The WHO estimates at least 9% of people work long hours and warned: “The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.”
WHO technical officer Frank Pega said capping hours would be beneficial for employers since that has been shown to increase worker productivity.
“It’s really a smart choice not to increase long working hours in an economic crisis,” he said.
Researchers analysed data from 59 studies into ischemic heart disease and strokes, taking in more than 1.6 million participants.
The information was based on more than 2,300 surveys collected in 154 countries worldwide between 1970 and 2018 and published in the Environment International journal.