The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have released a first of its kind study which found that 745,000 people died in 2016 due to long working hours, a 29% increase from 2000. Working 55 hours a week or more is associated with a 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease. The burden of work-related disease is most prevalent in men with 72% of deaths occurring among males. According to the WHO, most of the deaths occurred among people who passed away aged between 60 and 79 who worked 55 hours per week or more while aged between 45 and 74.
South-East Asia was the world region worst impacted with more than 300,000 deaths from long working hours while the Western Pacific region came second with just over 200,000. The study states that the number of employees putting in long hours is increasing which is resulting in a higher risk of work-related disability and death. COVID-19 is also dramatically changing work patterns, blurring the boundaries between home and office with the potential to feed the trend towards more working hours.
Maria Neira, director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at the WHO, said that “working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” and that “it’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”. The study recommends governments, employers and employees take action to protect workers’ health and it had a range of recommendations. They include governments introducing and enforcing laws and regulations banning mandatory overtime and ensuring maximum working hour limits. Bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and employees should also be arranged where maximum working hours are agreed while sharing hours between employees could also ensure workers do not go above the 55-hour threshold.