Study finds long working hours kills 745,000 people a year


Long working hours are killing hundreds of thousands of people a year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Brett Poole, Staff Writer

The first global study of its kind showed 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease due to long hours. The report found that people living in South East Asia and the Western Pacific region were the most affected.

The WHO also said the trend may worsen due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The research found that working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours.

The study, conducted with the International Labour Organization (ILO), also showed almost three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men. Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later.

“Companies continue to push people to their limits without concern for your personal well-being, says affected worker Mr. Frostick” “We also recognize the importance of personal health and well being and a good work-life balance, states the employer of Mr. Frostick” “The response to this topic shows how much this is on people’s minds and we are encouraging everyone to make their health and well being a top priority.”

“Stress, depression, anxiety, it was a cauldron of bad feedback loops,” another unhappy affected worker says. “I was in a constant state of being run down.” The number of people working long hours was increasing before the pandemic struck, according to the WHO, and was around 9% of the total global population.

In the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that people working from home during the pandemic were putting in an average of six hours of unpaid overtime a week. People who did not work from home put in an average of 3.6 hours a week overtime, the ONS said.

While the WHO study did not cover the period of the pandemic, WHO officials said the recent jump in remote working and the economic slowdown may have increased the risks associated with long working hours. “We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lock down, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

The report said working long hours was estimated to be responsible for about a third of all work-related disease, making it the largest occupational disease burden. The researchers said that there were two ways longer working hours led to poor health outcomes: firstly through direct physiological responses to stress, and secondly because longer hours meant workers were more likely to adopt health-harming behaviors such as tobacco and alcohol use, less sleep and exercise, and an unhealthy diet.