The World Health Organization, in the first global study of the loss of life associated with longer working hours, said that such long working hours are killing hundreds of thousands of people every year.
A worsening trend, that has been accelerated by the pandemic, WHO’s paper in the journal Environment International showed that 745,000 people died from stroke and heart disease associated with long working hours in 2016, an increase of nearly 30% from 2000.
“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. “What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers,” she said.
The study drew data from 194 countries. Produced by WHO and the International Labour Organization, it showed that 72% of the victims were middle-aged or older men. The long shifts impacted their lives years, sometimes decades later. The joint study also reflected the fact that most victims were people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific Region, including China, Japan and Australia.
The study also said that working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared with a 35-40 hour working week.
Covering the years 2000-2016, the study did not include the years affected by the COVID_19 pandemic. However, WHO officials have said that the risks have increased oweing to the remote working and global economic slowdown resulting from coronavirus.
“The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time,” the WHO said, estimating that at least 9% of people work long hours.
“Capping hours would be beneficial for employers since that has been shown to increase worker productivity”, WHO technical officer Frank Pega said. “It’s really a smart choice not to increase long working hours in an economic crisis.”