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Long working hours kill 745,000 people a year, WHO and ILO estimate

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Geneva — The annual number of heart attack and stroke deaths linked to working long hours rose nearly 30% worldwide between 2000 and 2016, according to estimates from the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization.

Researchers conducted two systematic reviews, including an analysis of 37 studies on ischemic heart disease and 22 stroke studies that involved more than 1.6 million participants combined. The participants were from nearly 200 countries.

Results show that, in 2016, an estimated 745,000 people died from stroke and ischemic heart disease – also called coronary heart disease, which can lead to a heart attack – as a result of having worked 55 or more hours a week. The 398,000 stroke deaths and 347,000 heart attack deaths represent increases of 42% and 19%, respectively, from 2000.

Compared with the participants who worked 35-40 hours a week, those who worked at least 55 hours a week had a 35% higher risk of dying from a stroke and 17% greater risk of dying from a heart attack.

According to a May 17 press release from WHO, the number of workers logging more hours is on the rise. Currently, 9% of the global population works at least 55 hours a week. The researchers add that the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to the growing trend of working longer hours.

“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the release. “No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease.”

 

The researchers recommend governments introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time. Collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations also can be used to ensure more flexible work arrangements and set a maximum limit on hours per week. Finally, employees could share their working hours to make sure they don’t surpass 55 a week.

The study was published online May 17 in the journal Environment International.

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