Long Working Hours Are Deadly, WHO Report Shows

by : Hannah Smith on : 17 May 2021 11:38
Long Working Hours Are Deadly, WHO Report ShowsPA Images

Working long hours is a ‘serious health hazard,’ and the situation is getting worse, a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned.

A study of workers from 194 countries has found that working 55 hours or more in a week is linked with higher rates of death from stress-linked conditions like strokes and heart disease.


It’s the first global study that has been conducted on the health risks of long working hours, and the results paint a picture the WHO says is not just concerning, but appears to be accelerating.

Between 2000 and 2016 there was a 30% increase in stroke and heart disease deaths among people who worked long hours, with 745,000 people dying as a result of these factors in 2016.

Working more than 55 hours a week is associated with increasing risk of death (PA Images)PA Images

The study concluded that working more than 55 hours a week resulted in a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 15% higher risk of death from ischemic heart disease, compared with lower rate among people who worked more typical 35-40 hour weeks.


The majority of deaths in the study, some 72%, were of male workers, with people in Southeast Asian and Western Pacific countries like Japan and Australia most likely to be affected.

The study points out most of the deaths occurred in people middle-aged or older, with people still more likely to die several decades after they had stopped working the long hours.

‘Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard… What we want to do with this information is promote more action, more protection of workers’ said Maria Neira, director of the WHO’s Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, per Reuters.

While the study only analysed deaths prior to 2016, the WHO has warned that evidence suggests the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed many more workers into pulling longer hours, with at least 9% of workers estimated to be working more than 55 hours in a week.

Working hours have increased during the pandemic (Vlada Karpovich/Pexels)Vlada Karpovich/Pexels

The report notes ‘the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.’

Reuters reports the WHO itself was not exempt from the problem, with staff at the UN agency having themselves reported working increasingly long hours during the pandemic.

According to WHO technical officer Frank Pega, ‘It’s really a smart choice not to increase long working hours in an economic crisis,’ with capping hours actually linked to increased productivity.


So while it can be difficult to close your laptop and walk away from your desk at the end of the day, setting some limits could have major health benefits further down the line.

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Topics: Health, COVID-19, Now, WHO


  1. Reuters

    Long working hours are a killer, WHO study shows