Long working hours can kill you: ILO

The majority of work-related deaths were due to lung or heart disease, according to the World Health Organisation.

22 September 2021 | Labour

ELLANIE SMIT

WINDHOEK

Work-related diseases and injuries were responsible for the deaths of 1.9 million people in 2016, according to the first joint estimates from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Labour Organisation (ILO).

According to the WHO/ILO Joint Estimates of the Work-Related Burden of Disease and Injury, 2000-2016: Global Monitoring Report, the majority of work-related deaths were due to respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

Non-communicable diseases accounted for 81% of the deaths. The greatest causes of deaths were chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (450 000 deaths); stroke (400 000 deaths) and ischaemic heart disease (350 000 deaths).

Occupational injuries caused 19% of deaths (360 000 deaths).

The study considers 19 occupational risk factors, including exposure to long working hours and workplace exposure to air pollution, asthmagens, carcinogens, ergonomic risk factors and noise.

According to the report, the key risk was exposure to long working hours – linked to approximately 750 000 deaths.

Workplace exposure to air pollution was responsible for 450 000 deaths.

Wake-up call

The report indicates that in Namibia, 181 work-related deaths were recorded in 2000, slightly increasing to 197 in 2016.

Of these deaths, 55 were a result of strokes attributed to exposure to long working hours in 2000, compared to the 54 in 2016.

Meanwhile, 35 people died of ischaemic diseases attributed to exposure to long working hours in Namibia in 2000, increasing to 39 in 2016.

“It is shocking to see so many people literally being killed by their jobs,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said.

"Our report is a wake-up call to countries and businesses to improve and protect the health and safety of workers by honouring their commitments to provide universal coverage of occupational health and safety services.”

Work-related diseases and injuries strain health systems, reduce productivity and can have a catastrophic impact on household incomes, the report warned.

Covid to add another dimension

Globally, work-related deaths per population fell by 14% between 2000 and 2016. This may reflect improvements in workplace health and safety, the report said. However, deaths from heart disease and stroke associated with exposure to long working hours rose by 41 and 19% respectively. This reflects an increasing trend in this relatively new and psychosocial occupational risk factor.

The report noted that the total work-related burden of disease is likely substantially larger, as health loss from several other occupational risk factors must still be quantified in the future. Moreover, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic will add another dimension to this burden to be captured in future estimates.

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