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Working hours

The first global study on the loss of life associated with longer working hours in the journal Environmental International showed that 745,000 people died from stroke and heart disease associated with long working hours in 2016, an increase of nearly 30 percent from 2000.

The World Health Organization warned that working long hours is killing hundreds of thousands a year and the trend may accelerate further due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“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.

What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers,” she added.

The joint study, produced by the WHO and the International Labor Organization, showed that most victims (72 percent) were men and were middle-aged or older. Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the shifts worked. It also showed that people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region were the most affected.

Overall, the study that drew on data from 194 countries said working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35 percent higher risk of stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared with a 35-40 hour working week.

The study covered the period 2000-2016, but WHO officials said the surge in remote working and the global economic slowdown resulting from the coronavirus pandemic 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 percent of people work long hours.

WHO technical officer Frank Pega said capping hours would be beneficial for employers since it has been shown to increase worker productivity.

The pandemic has significantly affected the way humans have been working over the past year and while improvements in digital infrastructure has allowed us to work from home, many employees and employers have been forgetting to shut off or clock out, leading to longer working hours that unsurprisingly turns out to be unhealthy.

Those who work longer hours not only risk loss of life, the quality of their life also declines when they forego leisure activities or ignore their well-being. It is the responsibility of both the employer and the employee to take the time to reevaluate the amount of time being spent on and off work, so that lives are actually improved instead of diminished.*

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