Environment Livelihoods

Long working hours have a higher risk of early death; men at a greater risk

Long working hours are leading to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths around the world each year with men at greater risk, according to a new study.

Health experts said that working more than 55 hours a week was a grave health hazard and was linked to a 35 percent higher risk of stroke and 17 percent greater risk of fatal heart disease. This is as compared to those working between 35 and 40 hours a week.

Long working hours led to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 percent increase since 2000. The data was collected from 194 countries and results published in the  Environment International journal.

The analysis from the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation concluded that 398,000 deaths globally from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease were linked to long working hours of more than 55 hours a week.

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

The work-related disease burden is more significant in men (72% of deaths occurred among males). 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.

Working for long hours is now responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease. It is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden. 

This shifts thinking towards a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health.

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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.

In addition, the number of people working long hours is increasing and stands at 9% of the total population worldwide. 

The trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

Therefore, Governments, employers, and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr. Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.

Governments, employers, and workers can 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 a 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 the numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.  

Also read,

World headed on a catastrophic hot climate future of 2.7C warming, UN warns

Buildings account for 39% of global greenhouse emissions

Only one nation is on track to meet global climate targets with Kenya not far behind

World countries significantly off schedule to meet the Paris Climate Accord, UN report

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