How your work is slowly killing you according to WHO, ILO

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Tired businesswoman at office desk waking up with pillow and coffee. PHOTO/ COURTESY

WHO – Working long hours could lead to your early death, a report by the World Health Organisation and the International Labour Organisation has revealed.

The study that was published in the Environment International on May 17 showed that 488 million people globally were exposed to long working hours or about 55 hours per week.

More than 745,000 of the people ended up losing their lives after they developed stroke and ischemic heart disease during the long working hours.

The exposure to long working hours also had 24 million Disability-Adjusted Life Year (DALYs) from ischemic heart disease and stroke. DALYs, according to the WHO are years in perfect health lost.

This was a 29 percent increase from a similar survey conducted in the year 2000.

The WHO and ILO’s first global analysis of deaths linked to long working hours estimated 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 analysis also showed that, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19% between 2000 and 2016.

The report also revealed that work related diseases were more in men as they accounted for 72% of the deaths and the risk was higher in people who worked for over 55 hours between ages 45 and 74 years.

In simple terms, the study showed that individuals were 35% more likely to die from stroke and 17% more likely to die from ischemic heart disease if they were subjected to the long working hours.

The report also noted a worrying trend over an increase in number of the people working long hours where the global rise stood at 9%.

Dr Maria Neira, WHO’s director in the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health said, Teleworking during the covid-19 pandemic had blurred the boundaries between home and work.

She added that, many businesses had also been forced to scale down on workers to save money, and the result was those who had remained working longer hours.

How to protect workers

  • governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, 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;
  • employees could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.  


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