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WHO Research Links Long Working Hours to Deaths From Heart Disease, Stroke

  • Report from the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization say work weeks of 55 hours or more are associated with elevated health risks
  • Ischemic heart disease and stroke more likely to affect employees working long hours
  • Organizations warn that COVID-19 is further increasing health risks by placing additional burdens on workers

Summary by Dirk Langeveld

If you or your employees are putting in lengthy hours each week, you may want to ease up. Recent research from the World Health Organization and International Labour Organization finds that work weeks of 55 hours or longer lead to an increased risk of ischemic heart disease and stroke.

The study concluded that lengthy work weeks are associated with an estimated 35 percent increase in stroke risk and 17 percent increase in ischemic heart disease when compared with a 35 to 40 hour work week. WHO and ILO attributed 745,000 deaths in 2016 from these ailments to long working hours, up 29 percent from 2000.

  • Ischemic heart disease deaths attributed to long working hours increased 42 percent between 2000 and 2016, while stroke deaths increased 19 percent.
  • Middle-aged and older men were most likely to be affected
  • WHO and ILO say long working hours are known to be responsible for one-third of the work-related burden of disease, making overwork “the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden”
  • The share of workers laboring longer hours has also increased, with an estimated 9 percent working at least 55 hours a week
  • COVID-19 has made long work weeks more common due to the erosion of a work-life divide and greater burden placed on remaining employees when a company lays off employees
  • WHO and ILO recommend that governments and businesses implement policies to shorten work weeks, such as shared working hours and banning mandatory overtime

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