Last reviewed 17 May 2021

In a first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours, the World Health Organization (WTO) and International Labour Organization (ILO) estimate that, in 2016, there were 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease.

Researchers found that 398,000 people died from a stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.

According to the analysis published in Environment International, this is a long-term problem with the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours having increased by 42%, and from stroke by 19%, in the period 2000 to 2016.

The study looks at the attributable burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke, for 183 countries by sex and age, for the years 2000, 2010 and 2016.

WHO Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, Dr Maria Neira, 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”.

With working long hours now known to be responsible for about one-third of the total estimated work-related burden of disease, it is established as the risk factor with the largest occupational disease burden.

Furthermore, the number of people working long hours is increasing and currently stands at 9% of the total population globally. Almost three-quarters of those who died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men.

Action needed

Governments, employers and workers can take the following actions to protect workers’ health, the WHO has suggested:

  • governments can introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time

  • bipartite or collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations can arrange working time to be more flexible while, at the same time, agreeing on a maximum number of working hours

  • employees could share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.