Long working hours ‘increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke’

ADDIS ABABA – Long working hours led to 745 000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000, according to the latest estimates by United Nations organisations.

The World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization published their first global analysis on the link between health and working long hours in Environment International today.

The analysis estimates 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 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%, they said.

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.

Increasing Working hours

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 towards a relatively new and more psychosocial occupational risk factor to human health, according to the UN agency’s research.

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.

Further, the number of people working long hours is increasing, and currently stands at 9% of the total population globally.

This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.
“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 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”.


The UN health agency gave adises for governments, employers and workers can take to protect workers’ health.

It urges for governments to introduce regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.

Bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange working time to be more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours, according the WHO.

Employees, on the other hand, “could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week”, the UN experts urged.