GENEVA, Switzerland — As companies merged or were acquired over the last 10 to 20 years, millions of workers were laid off, furloughed, or downsized workers. Still, one thing remained: long working hours for those who survived the cuts. But a new study from the World Health Organization says those long working hours may be sending many to an early grave.
According to the WHO study, “long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016.” The number represented an overall 29 percent increase in deaths since 2000 in the joint study from the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization. The study found that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of working at least 55 hours a week.
Put another way, the study found that working 55 or more hours per week “is associated with an estimated 35 percent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35-40 hours a week. The study also found that approximately 702 million workers around the world are currently in the category of working “long hours” putting hundreds of millions at “risk of work-related disability and early death.”
“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” added Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death.”
Researchers found the likelihood of disease was much higher in men, people living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions and among middle-aged or older workers. The study found most 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.”
The WHO made three recommendations that could help protect workers health more:
- 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.
However, none of those are likely to be implemented in the United States.