Working more than 55 hours a week is a “serious health hazard”, health experts have said after a new study suggested long working hours are leading to an increasing number of deaths from heart disease and stroke.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the boundaries between home and work life had become even more “blurred” due to home working during the coronavirus pandemic.
In some industries fewer people were being required to take on more work as companies scaled back the workforce after losing income.
The remarks come as a new study linked hundreds of thousands of deaths to long working hours.
Researchers looked at data from 194 countries – including from the Office for National Statistics in the UK.
The analysis from WHO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) concluded that, around the globe, working more than 55 hours each week was linked to 398,000 deaths from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 – a 29% increase from the year 2000.
The analysis, published in the journal Environment International, concluded the number of deaths from heart disease linked to working long hours increased by 42% between 2000 and 2016.
Stroke deaths linked to long working hours rose by 19% during the same time frame, WHO said.
The study concluded that working 55 or more hours each 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.
The researchers said that the disease burden is more common among older workers and men.
People who live in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia ere particularly affected.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ said WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“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.”
Dr Maria Neira, director of WHO’s department of environment, climate change and health, said: “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard.
“It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees, wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.
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