Long working hours ‘biggest hazard to worker health’

Around a third of occupational disease is now caused by working too long hours, the WHO and ILO have said.

17 May 2021| News

Long working hours are now responsible for about a third of all occupational disease, making it the biggest single hazard to worker health, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

In research it conducted with the International Labour Organization (ILO), it was found 745,000 people died of cardiovascular disease related to working long hours in 2016.

Those putting in 55 hours or more a week are 35% more likely to suffer a stroke and 17% more likely to die of heart disease than those working 35-40 hours a week, the study found.

The researchers cited the body’s physiological response to stress and the higher likelihood of busy people resorting to poor lifestyle choices as the reasons behind this trend.

Although workers in East Asian and South Pacific countries were found to be most at risk, the WHO warned that hours may be rising across the globe as a result of the pandemic. Even before Coronavirus hit, the number of workers putting in long hours had risen to nearly one in ten across the world, the researchers said.

“We have some evidence that shows that when countries go into national lockdown, the number of hours worked increase by about 10%,” WHO technical officer Frank Pega said.

Last year, the government came under fire for reviewing the Working Time Regulations, which cap working hours at 48 hours per week in the UK (although workers can opt out and are often pressured into doing so). Several cabinet ministers, including the Secretary for Business Kwasi Kwarteng, have previously promoted their view that British workers do not work hard or long enough.