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Thursday, June 24, 2021

New research: WHO-ILO study links long work hours to more deaths

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.

By: Express News Service | Pune |
Updated: May 19, 2021 7:50:36 am
BMC workers clean drains ahead of the monsoon, in Mumbai. (Express Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar, File)

Long working hours led to 7.45 lakh deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29% increase since 2000, according to the latest estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) published in Environment International.

While the figures are for 2016, the analysis comes as the Covid-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours. The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time. The number of people working long hours is increasing and this trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

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In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016, 3.98 lakh people died from stroke and 3.47 lakh 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 disease burden is particularly significant in men (72% of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers. 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. 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.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the WHO.

Covid-19 has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have scaled back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours.

Two systematic reviews and meta-analyses of the latest evidence were conducted for this study. Data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 7.68 lakh participants, and 22 studies on stroke covering more than 8.39 lakh participants were synthesized. The study covered global, regional and national levels, and was based on data from more than 2,300 surveys collected in 154 countries from 1970-2018.

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