healthHealth and Medicine

Working Long Hours Kills 745,000 People Every Year, Says WHO Study


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

Office worker.

"Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard." Image credit: Michael J P/

Do you work more than 55 hours a week? Then you should consider your job a serious health hazard.

Working long hours kills around 745,000 people each year, according to a startling new analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization. The study, published this week in the journal Environment International, is the first global analysis of the loss of life linked to working long hours.


In 2016, the latest statistics featured in the study, an estimated 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a direct result of working at least 55 hours a week. This figure appears to be on the rise too – between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 41.5 percent, and from stroke by 19 percent.

Men took the brunt of the burden, with 72 percent of work-related deaths occurring among males. It appears the real risk lies in middle-aged and older people who continue to work long days between the ages of 45 and 74 years. 

Currently, 8.9 percent of the world’s population works long hours, defined as 55 hours per week or more. South-East Asia was found to have the highest percent of people working long hours, while Europe had the least.

It’s also noteworthy that the number of people subject to long working hours increased substantially between 2010 and 2016. This increase in working hours is said to be a reflection of the gig economy and economic uncertainty. It’s also been pointed out that smartphones and laptops have fostered new working cultures, in which people can never truly “clock off.” 


Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic is only set to deep this trend through further economic instability and other changes to work culture, such as “work from home” measures. Even once the disease outbreak is under control, many of these unhealthy patterns of behavior are likely to stick around. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work,“ Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said in a statement

“Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work. In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours. No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease. Governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.”

If this trend continues then it’s set to cause an even deeper problem for global health. To beat this problem, the researchers argue that governments need to introduce, implement, and enforce policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.


“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard,” explained Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health the WHO. “It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.



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