May 17, 2021 - Health

Study: Long working hours killed 745,000 people in a year

Photo of workers unloading furniture and appliances from a moving truck

Photo: Amir Hamja/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Working long hours can increase risk of death, according to a first-of-its-kind study by the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization.

Why it matters: The study does not cover the pandemic, but its authors say that working long hours is now the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.

By the numbers: As a result of working at least 55 hours per week, about 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016.

  • The number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours jumped by 42% between 2000 and 2016.
  • Compared to working 35 to 40 hours per week, working 55 or more hours weekly is associated with an estimated 35% higher risk of a stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease.
  • This higher risk is "particularly significant" in middle-aged or older workers, men and people living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions.
  • Working long hours is responsible for about one-third of all estimated work-related burden of disease.

What they're saying: "The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. "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," he said.
  • "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."
Go deeper