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Working more than 55 hours a week increases risk of death, warns WHO

The risk of death from heart disease and stroke increases by working more than fifty-five hours a week, alerted the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization in a study published on Monday.

As the Covid-19 pandemic accelerates developments that could reinforce the tendency to work longer hours, this first global analysis links the loss of human life to damage to health.

Awareness of governments, employers and employees

The study, published in the journal Environment International, however, does not relate to the pandemic, but to previous years. The authors synthesized data from dozens of studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants. “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO. “It is time that everyone – governments, employers and workers – finally admitted that long working hours can lead to premature deaths,” she added.

The study concludes that working 55 hours or more per week is associated with an estimated 35% increased risk of stroke and 17% increased risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared to working hours of 35 to 40 hours per week. The WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease for working at least 55 hours a week. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths due to heart disease linked to long working hours increased by 42%, a figure which stands at 19% for stroke.

No gender difference

Most of the deaths recorded were in people aged 60 to 79, who had worked fifty-five or more hours a week when they were between 45 and 74. In summary, says the WHO, “now that it is known that approximately one-third of the total estimated work-related disease burden is attributable to long working hours, this makes it the number one risk factor for occupational disease “. “We therefore found no gender difference in the effect of long working hours on the incidence of cardiovascular disease,” said WHO expert Frank Pega at a press conference.

However, the disease burden is particularly high among men (72% of deaths concern them) because they represent a large proportion of the world’s workers. It is also greater among people living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asian regions, where, Frank Pega explained, there are more informal sector workers likely to be forced to work for longer periods of time. long days. The WHO is all the more concerned about this phenomenon as the number of people working long hours is increasing. It currently represents 9% of the total world population. The pandemic should do little to reverse the trend. On the contrary.

More work during confinement

“Working from home has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the lines between home and work. On the other hand, many companies have been forced to reduce or halt operations to save money and the people they continue to employ end up working longer hours,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO. But, he warned, “no job is worth risking a stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers must work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers”.

Citing a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 15 countries, Frank Pega indicated that “the number of working hours increased by about 10% during the confinements”. Telecommuting, combined with a digitalization of work processes, makes it more difficult for workers to disconnect, he said, recommending organizing “periods of rest”. The pandemic has also increased job insecurity, which in times of crisis tends to push those who have kept theirs to work more to show they are competitive, noted the expert.

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