Long working hours are killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year, a new study by the World Health Organization (WHO) has shown.

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The study, which was jointly carried out by WHO and the International Labour Organisation (ILO), and published in Environment International, a medical journal, on Monday, estimated that there were 745,000 deaths from stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, marking a 29 percent increase since 2000.

The researchers examined global, regional, and national exposure to long working hours across 194 countries and the attributable burdens of ischemic heart disease and stroke from 183 countries by sex and age in 2000, 2010, and 2016 respectively.

Ischemic or ischaemia is a restriction in blood supply to tissues, causing a shortage of oxygen that is needed for cellular metabolism (to keep tissue alive).

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The study — which is the first global analysis of the loss of life and health associated with working long hours — showed that 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease in 2016 for working at least 55 hours a week.

It added that between 2000 and 2016, the number of deaths from heart disease due to working long hours increased by 42 percent while that of stroke rose by 19 percent.

The study also revealed that work-related disease burden is prevalent in men as 72 per cent of deaths occurred among males.

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It also identified people living in the Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions and middle-aged or older workers as the worst affected.

The study concluded that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 percent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working for 35-40 hours a week.

The study also noted that the number of people working long hours is increasing and currently stands at nine per cent of the total global population.

In a statement on Monday, Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said the study has demonstrated the need for employers and workers to agree on limits regarding working hours.

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“The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking has become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work,” he said.

“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.”

Also speaking, Maria Neira, WHO’s director, department of environment, climate change and health, said governrments and relevant authorities must work toward stopping people from working for 55 hours or more in a week.

“Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death,” Neira said.

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