Working long hours killed over 745,000 people in a year, study finds

Medical experts are already speaking to the implications of what this research means for most Americans working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic

A new study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows that continually working long hours is not just dangerous; it’s fatal. The study was published in the journal Environment International on Monday. 

In one of the firsts global studies on the relationship between loss of life and extended work, the two organizations found that working long hours led to 745,000 people dying from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, which is a 29 percent increase from 2000. In 2016, 398,000 people died from a stroke and 347,000 from heart disease due to working at least 55 hours a week, WHO reports

“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,” said Dr. Maria Neira, director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health at WHO. 

Read More: Working remotely causing increase in racial harassment, tech survey finds

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The study shows that men are particularly vulnerable, representing an overwhelming 75 percent of the work-related deaths. The burden also weighs more heavily on communities in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia and older people. Those aged 60-79 and who worked between the ages of 45 to 74 represented most of the deaths.

Overall, the study warns that working 55 or more hours a week can lead to a 35 percent higher risk of stroke and 17 percent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to a standard 35-40 hour work week. 

Research from WHO and ILO also identified two ways that working long hours can lead to death. One is the body’s physiological response to psychological stress, which can manifest as reactions within the cardiovascular systems and tissue damage. The other is the increase of stress-coping behaviors such as drinking alcohol, poor diet, sleep disruption, and physical inactivity, CNN reports

Read More: National Black Nurses Association offers mental health services to frontline workers

Medical experts are already speaking to the implications of what this research means for most Americans working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the millions of workers worldwide. For example, teleworking has led to a 2.5-hour increase in the average workday for people living in Austria, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., according to the corporate data company NordVPN Teams

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. 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,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

“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.”

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