17 May 2021

A long working day kills

Long working hours are the reason for the increase in mortality due to heart disease and stroke

Long working hours caused the death of 745,000 people as a result of stroke and coronary heart disease in 2016, which is 29 percent more than in 2000, according to the latest estimates of the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization, published in the journal Environment International.

As part of this study, two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of recent data were conducted. Data from 37 studies in the field of coronary heart disease involving more than 768,000 patients and 22 studies in the field of stroke involving more than 839,000 patients were combined. The study was conducted at the global, regional and national levels and was based on data from more than 2,300 surveys collected in 154 countries over the period from 1970 to 2018, according to a joint press release WHO and ILO.

In the first global analysis of mortality and morbidity due to long working hours, WHO and the ILO estimated that in 2016 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease, working at least 55 hours a week. In the period from 2000 to 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease as a result of prolonged work increased by 42%, and from stroke – by 19%.

This burden of work-related diseases is especially high among men (they account for 72% of deaths), residents of the Western Pacific and Southeast Asian regions, as well as middle-aged and elderly workers. The majority of deaths were registered among people aged 60-79 years who worked more than 55 hours a week between the ages of 45 and 74 years.

Since it is currently known that the total estimated burden of diseases is about one-third due to overtime work, this factor is recognized as the most important risk factor for occupational diseases. This makes us pay attention to a relatively new and to a greater extent psychosocial factor of occupational risk to human health.

The study concludes that when working for 55 or more hours a week, the risk of stroke increases by about 35%, and the risk of coronary heart disease increases by 17% compared to working for 35-40 hours a week.

In addition, the number of people working overtime is increasing and currently accounts for 9% of the total population worldwide. With this trend, more and more people are at risk of disability and premature death.

The new analysis is carried out due to the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the problem of organizing working hours; in the context of a pandemic, the impact of factors that can contribute to an increase in working hours is increasing.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work," said WHO Director—General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. — Remote work has become the norm in many industries, in many cases blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to wind down or completely stop working to save money, and people who are still getting paid end up having to work longer. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart attack. Governments, employers and employees should join forces and agree on certain restrictions in order to protect people's health."

"Working 55 or more hours a week is a serious health hazard," said Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health of the World Health Organization. "The time has come when we — governments, employers and employees – must realize the fact that a long working day can lead to premature death."

Governments, employers and employees can take the following actions to protect people's health:  

  • Governments may enact and establish laws, regulations and regulations prohibiting compulsory overtime and limiting the maximum length of working hours, apply these laws and regulations and monitor their compliance;
  • bilateral or collective agreements between employers and employee associations may provide for more flexible working hours, setting a maximum working time;
  • employees can allocate their working time in such a way that the number of hours worked does not exceed 55 hours per week.

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