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, according to a study published on Monday.
The study, by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization, showed 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. The findings are published in Environment International.
The new 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 Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a statement.
"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 added.
The 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.
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.
"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard," said 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," Neira said.