Working overly long hours has been known to cause many health issues. But just how bad can it get? Long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 percent increase since 2000, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation published in Environment International recently.

In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that, in 2016, up to 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 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%, and from stroke by 19%.

This work-related health issue is particularly prominent in men, with 72% of deaths occured among males. Problems resulting from overwork tend to be centered within the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions, and most affects the middle-aged and older age groups. 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 ages of 45 and 74 years.

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. This shifts thinking towards a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health.

The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week.

The concerning news is that the number of people working overly long hours around the globe is increasing. It currently stands at 9% of the total population globally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

The new analysis is a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced many businesses to re-evaluate and manage working hours. The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.


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