In a startling revelation, the World Health Organization (WHO) blamed long working hours for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people each year, an issue that has exacerbated and could be exacerbated further by the pandemic.
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This is due in part to the fact that many businesses have already closed as a result of the pandemic, requiring people to devote more time to work in order to cope with the challenges of the new normal.
WHO Reveals Longer Working Hours Killing Hundreds and Thousands
According to the findings of the first global study of the loss of life associated with longer working hours, published in the journal Environment International, 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease caused by long working hours. According to Reuters, this represents a worrying 30 percent increase since 2000.
“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. “What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers,” she said.
The majority of victims (72 per cent) were men in their forties or older, according to a joint study published by the WHO and the International Labour Organization. Deaths often occurred much later in life, even decades later, than the shifts worked.
It also reported that people in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region — a WHO-defined region that includes China, Japan, and Australia — were the most severely affected.
What Are the Dangers of Working Longer Hours?
Working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35% increased risk of stroke and a 17% increased risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, according to the study, which drew data from 194 countries.
The study was performed between 2000 and 2016, so it did not involve the COVID-19 pandemic, but WHO officials claimed that the increase in remote working and the global economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus emergency could have increased the risks.
“The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards more work hours,” the WHO said, estimating that at least 9 per cent of people work long hours.
Employees of the World Health Organization, including CEO Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, state they worked long hours during the pandemic, and Neira says the U.N. agency will change its policies in light of the results.
Meanwhile, according to WHO technical officer Frank Pega, reducing the amount of hours worked would help employers because it has been shown to increase worker productivity.