17th May, 2021
By Oluwafunke Ishola
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), said 745, 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease occurred in 2016.
WHO, in a statement from its headquarters in Geneva on Monday, said that the figure was the first global analysis of loss of lives and health associated with working long hours.
“WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016, 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 the Year 2000 and Year 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42 per cent and from stroke by 19 per cent,” it said.
The health agency said that work-related disease burden was particularly significant in men (72 percent of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions, and middle-aged or older workers.
According to WHO, most of the deaths recorded are among people aged between 60 years and 79 years, who had worked for 55 hours or more per week between 45 years 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 toward a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health,” it said.
WHO said that the study concluded that working 55 or more hours per week was associated with an estimated 35 percent higher risk of stroke and 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working between 35 hours and 40 hours a week.
It said that 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 to 2018.
WHO said that data from 37 studies on ischemic heart disease covering more than 768,000 participants and 22 studies on stroke, covering more than 839,000 participants were synthesised.
It disclosed that the number of people working long hours was increasing, and currently stands at nine per cent of the total population globally.
“This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death,” it said.
WHO said that the new analysis came as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours.
“The pandemic is accelerating developments that can feed the trend toward increased working time,” it said.
The Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had 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 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.
“Governments, employers, and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers,” Ghebreyesus said.
WHO advised governments to introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations, and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
It added that bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange a working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
WHO advised employees to share working hours to ensure that the number of hours worked does not exceed 55 or more per week.