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WHO-ILO study blames long working hours for heart diseases, stroke deaths

Working 55 hours or more in a week leads to 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and 17 per cent higher risk of death due to heart diseases, compared to working 35-40 hours a week

twitter-logoPB Jayakumar | May 17, 2021 | Updated 20:27 IST
WHO-ILO study blames long working hours for heart diseases, stroke deaths

In a first global analysis of its kind, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have found a 29 per cent increase in deaths from stroke and heart diseases due to working long hours. The findings, relating loss of life and health to extended shifts are significant "as the pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work... often blurring the boundaries between home and work," said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The study said long working hours led to 7,45,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000. In 2016, 3,98,000 people died from stroke and 3,47,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42 per cent, and from stroke by 19 per cent. 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. The analysis is based on data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 7,68,000 participants and 22 studies on stroke covering more than 8,39,000 participants.

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The study concludes that 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.

It said 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 aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

The WHO and ILO said with working long hours now known to be 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. The number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9 per cent of the total population globally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

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The new analysis comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours; the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time. "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. 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," said the WHO Director-General.

"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard," added Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organisation.

The WHO and ILO suggested governments to 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 that arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours; and sharing working hours between employees to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 per week.

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