The risk of death from heart disease and stroke increases with working more than 55 hours a week, the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization warned in a study released Monday.

While the Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating developments likely to reinforce the tendency to work longer hours, this first global analysis associates the loss of human life with damage to health.

Awareness of governments, employers and employees

The study, published in the journal

Environment International

, however, does not focus on the pandemic, but on previous years. The authors synthesized data from dozens of studies involving hundreds of thousands of participants. “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at WHO. "It is time for everyone - governments, employers and workers - to finally recognize that long working hours can lead to premature death," she added.

The study concludes that working 55 hours or more per week is associated with an estimated 35% increase in the risk of stroke and 17% in the risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared to schedules of 35 to 40 hours of work per week.

WHO and ILO estimate that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease after working at least 55 hours per week.

Between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths due to heart disease linked to long working hours increased by 42%, a figure that stands at 19% for strokes.

No difference between the sexes

Most of the recorded deaths were among people aged 60 to 79, who had worked 55 or more hours per week when they were between 45 and 74 years old. In summary, says the WHO, "now that it is known that about a third of the total estimated work-related disease burden is attributable to long working hours, this makes it the number one risk factor for occupational disease. ". “So we found no gender difference in the effect of long working hours on the incidence of cardiovascular disease,” WHO expert Frank Pega told a press conference.

However, the burden of disease is particularly high among men (72% of deaths concern them) because they represent a large proportion of workers worldwide.

It is also higher among people living in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia regions, where, explained Frank Pega, there are more informal sector workers likely to be forced to work for long periods of time. long days.

The WHO is all the more worried about this phenomenon as the number of people working long hours is increasing.

It currently represents 9% of the total world population.

The pandemic should do little to reverse the trend.

On the contrary.

More work during lockdowns

“Telecommuting has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the lines between home and work. In addition, many companies have been forced to cut back or shut down their activities to save money and the people they continue to employ end up with longer working hours, ”said Dr Tedros Adhanom. Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO. But, he warned, "No job is worth taking the risk of a stroke or heart disease." Governments, employers and workers must work together to agree on limits to protect workers' health ”.

Citing a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 15 countries, Frank Pega indicated that "the number of working hours increased by about 10% during lockdowns".

Teleworking, combined with a digitalization of work processes, makes it more difficult to disconnect workers, he said, recommending to organize “rest periods”.

The pandemic has also increased job insecurity, which, in times of crisis, tends to push those who have kept theirs to work more to show that they are competitive, noted the expert.


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