Governments, employers and workers can help address the issue, says WHO
Working long hours can be deadly, according to a new report.
Working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.
In 2016, long working hours led to approximately 745,194 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart diseases, up 29 per cent from the figure in 2000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Specifically, around 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart diseases in 2016, up by 42 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively, from the year 2000 figures.
And there have been more people working long hours. Between the years 2000 and 2016, the exposed population increased by 9.3 per cent, according to the report.
This is a reason to worry for the health of workers forced to work from home today amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report. More than a third (34.7 per cent) of new teleworkers say they work longer hours now, according to a report from Statistics Canada released last month.
“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,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general.
“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.”
This work-related disease burden is particularly significant in men (72 per cent of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions and middle-aged or older workers. Most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74.
The report was based on two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the latest evidence. Data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 768 000 participants and 22 studies on stroke covering more than 839 000 participants were synthesized. The study covered global, regional and national levels, and was based on data from more than 2,300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970-2018.
“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 WHO. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.
Here are some ways to protect workers, according to WHO:
- 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.
The number of workers living with a chronic health condition is split in half between those who are disclosing (51 per cent) and not disclosing (49 per cent) their situation to their supervisors, according to a previous report from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH).