Long Working Hours Increases Risk of Heart Disease; WHO

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The exposure to long working hours (about 55 hours per week) leads to high risk and more deaths from ischemic heart disease and stroke, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International labour Organisation (ILO).

The first joint estimate looks at the global, regional, and national exposure to long working hours, for 194 countries for 2000, 2010 and 2016.


The estimates notes that long working led to 7,45,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016. This was a 29 per cent increase since 2000. , according to the latest estimates. The estimates points out that 3,98,000 people died from stroke and 347 000 from heart disease in 2016 because of working at least 55 hours a week. It said that the number of deaths from heart disease due to long working hours increased by 42 per cent, and from stroke by 19 per cent between 2000 and 2016.


The WHO and ILO said that the risk was significant in men. It resulted in 72 per cent of deaths occurred. They also pointed out higher risk among people in Western Pacific and South East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers. They said that most of the deaths recorded were among people dying aged 60-79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between the 45 years and 74 years.

The study also maintained that the number of people working long hours increased. It stood at nine per cent of the total population globally.  The analysis comes at a time when COVID-19  pandemic drops a spotlight on managing working hours.


WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed the way many people worked. “Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, 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,” he said.

Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization Dr Maria Neira pointed out that working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. She also noted; “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 WHO and ILO asked the governments, employers and workers to take the following actions to protect workers’ health:

  • Governments can 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 can arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
  • Employees could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.



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