A study billed as the first global analysis of its kind found that the number of deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease among people working at least 55 hours per week increased 29% between 2000 and 2016. Global health and labor leaders say changing work conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including teleworking, could increase the possibility of long hours.
The peer-reviewed study found 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 as a result of working at least 55 hours a week, the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization announced Monday. That was a 42% increase from 2000 in deaths from heart disease related to long hours and a 16% increase in stroke deaths over that same period.
Most of the deaths were among people between the ages of 60-79 who had worked 55 hours or more per week between the ages of 45 and 74. Seventy-two percent of the deaths were among males, the WHO said. People living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions were also especially at risk.
The study concludes that the risk of stroke increases 35% and risk of dying from ischemic heart disease jumps 17% for people working at least 55 hours per week compared to working 35-40 hours per week.
"Further, the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9% of the total population globally," the WHO said, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing trends toward people working longer hours.
"Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in a statement. "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.
Ghebreyesus urged governments, employers and employees to set standards to protect workers from long hours.
The study is published in Environment International and can be read at ScienceDirect.com.