In a disturbing revelation, the World Health Organization (WHO) blamed long working hours for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people each year, a problem that has intensified and may lead to a higher number due to the pandemic.
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This is partly due to the fact that many companies have already gone down due to the pandemic, thus leading to people dedicating more time at work to cope with the struggles of the new norm.
WHO Reveals ‘Longer Working Hours Leads to Hundreds and Thousands of Death’
The first global study of the loss of life associated with longer working hours, published in the journal Environment International, found that 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease caused by long working hours. This is a concerning rise of approximately 30% since 2000, Reuters reported.
“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. “What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers,” she said.
According to the joint report conducted by the WHO and the International Labour Organization, the majority of victims (72 percent) were men in their forties or older. Deaths occurred often much later in life, even decades later, than the shifts worked.
It also revealed that citizens in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific area — a WHO-defined region that includes China, Japan, and Australia — were the hardest hit.
By the Numbers
Working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared to a 35-40 hour working week, according to the report, which drew data from 194 countries.
The research was conducted between 2000 and 2016, so it did not include the COVID-19 pandemic, but WHO officials stated that the rise in remote working and the global economic recession caused by the coronavirus emergency could have increased the risks.
“The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards more work hours,” the WHO said, estimating that at least 9 per cent of people work long hours.
WHO employees, including CEO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, claim they have been working long hours during the pandemic, and Neira says the U.N. agency will aim to change its policies in light of the findings.
Meanwhile, limiting the number of hours worked will benefit employers because it has been shown to improve worker productivity, according to WHO technical officer Frank Pega.