Long working hours has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths due to heart disease and stroke, particularly among men and middle-aged or older workers.
Research by the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization found that in 2016, 745,000 people across the world died from stroke and ischemic heart disease related to working at least 55 hours a week – a 29% increase since 2000.
Home working and fatigue
The WHO described working more than 55 hours a week as a “serious health hazard” and said that organisations and governments needed to work together to introduce sensible limits.
Almost three-quarters (72%) of deaths were among males. There were also more deaths in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia, where long working hours are common.
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.
Their research, which has been published in the Environment International journal, finds that 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 died from heart disease in 2016.
They concluded that working 55 hours per week increases the risk of stroke by 35% and ischemic heart disease by 17%, compared with working 35-40 hours per week.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said: “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, said: “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.”
The findings echo research by Angers University in France and the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in 2019, which found people who worked longer than 10 hours a day on 50 or more occasions per year were 29% more likely to have a stroke than those who did not.
Earlier this year, a study by Wildgoose found 55% of employees had needed to work outside regular working hours during the pandemic, which was creating a “cycle of fatigue”. Forty-four per cent had a heavier workload since working from home and have asked for it to be reduced, and 31% had seen a direct impact on their mental health.
The WHO recommended that governments introduce regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
It said collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations and unions can facilitate more flexible working and set a maximum number of working hours. Employees could also share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not exceed a sensible limit.