Working long hours is killing hundreds of thousands of people a year in a worsening trend that may speed up further due to the current pandemic, the World Health Organisation said on Monday.

In the first global study of the loss of life linked with longer working hours, the paper in the journal Environment International showed that 745,000 people died from a stroke and heart disease associated with long working hours in 2016. That was an increase of nearly 30% from 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 [and] more protection of workers,” she said.

According to details, the joint study done by the WHO and the International Labour Organisation showed that most victims (72%) were men and were middle-aged or older.

Read more – People who use social media for news more susceptible to rumours: study

It also showed that people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region, a WHO-defined region including China, Japan and Australia were the most affected.

Overall, the study collecting data from 194 countries revealed that working 55 hours or more a week is associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease compared with a 35-40 hour working week.

The study covered the years from 2000 to 2016 so did not include the COVID-19 pandemic but WHO officials said the surge in remote working and the global economic slowdown resulting from the coronavirus emergency may have increased the risks.

“The pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time,” the WHO said, estimating that at least 9% of people work long hours.