Working long hours is killing hundreds of thousands of people a year in a worsening trend that may accelerate further due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said on Monday.
In the first global study of the loss of life associated with longer working hours, the paper in the journal Environment International showed that 745,000 people died from stroke and heart disease associated with long working hours in 2016.
That was an increase of nearly 30% from 2000.
"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard," said Maria Neira, director of the WHO's Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health.
The study covered the period 2000-2016, and so did not include the COVID-19 pandemic, but WHO officials said the surge in remote working and the global economic slowdown resulting from the coronavirus emergency may have increased the risks.
"The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time," the WHO said, estimating that at least 9% of people work long hours.
WHO staff, including its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, say they have been working long hours during the pandemic and Neira said the U.N. agency would seek to improve its policy in light of the study.
Capping hours would be beneficial for employers since that has been shown to increase worker productivity, WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.