Long working hours increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke

People working long hours are putting themselves at an increased risk of dying early from heart attack or stroke, particularly Australian men.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a report that estimates long working hours led to 745,000 deaths from stroke and heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000.

In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, WHO and the International Labour Organization (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. 

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“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s department of environment, climate change and health.

Between 2000 and 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.

This work-related disease burden was particularly significant in men (72 per cent of deaths occurred among males), people living in the Western Pacific (which includes Australia) and Southeast 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.

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The study concludes that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischaemic 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 per cent of the total population globally. This trend puts even more people at risk of work-related disability and early death.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the COVID-19 pandemic was accelerating developments that could lead towards increased working time.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,” Dr Ghebreyesus explained. “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,” he said.

“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.”

According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), around 6 per cent of the population was estimated to work 55 hours or more per week (but this figure would be much higher if measuring just those in full-time employment).

How many hours do you work in a standard week? How many hours did you work when you were aged 45 to when you retired? Do you regret working extra hours? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Written by Ben