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Long Working Hours Kills More People in Southeast Asia Than Any Other Region

Death by work? It's a thing.
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Don't let the pandemic-induced WFH culture fool you. Overworking has been around for a long time. The curse of capitalism, romanticized productivity, and work-is-life culture has resulted in thousands of deaths per year, and it's only being brought to light now.

For the first time, the World Health Organization and International Labor Organization conducted a study that found 745,000 people died in the year 2016 due to long working hours, which is a 29 percent increase from the death-by-work numbers in 2000. The fact that it's 2021 and the latest data available is from five years ago speaks volumes that the issue isn't taken seriously enough. According to Dr. Maria Neira, the director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change, and Health at WHO, "Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard."

In fact, the study found that working more than 55 hours per week is associated with a 35 percent higher risk of stroke and a 17 percent higher risk of dying from heart disease. The study further found that most of the deaths occurred between people aged 60 and 79 who had worked over 55 hours per week when they were aged 45 to 74. And the most worrying fact? 73 percent of those deaths were men.

Disease and death caused by long working hours is most prevalent in Southeast Asia, which bears the unfortunate burden of having 318,819 deaths in 2016 caused by overworking. The Western Pacific region follows with 208,476 deaths. These two regions made up over two thirds of all deaths caused by long hours in 2016, far more than other regions like Europe, both of the Americas, and Africa.

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Infographic: Long Working Hours Cause 745,000 Deaths A Year | Statista  Statista

“It’s time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death," said Dr. Neira.

But that's easier said than done. For many improverished and low income workers, there's no other choice but to work long hours to provide for their families. There are many at factors at play: low minimum wage, high cost of living, and poor work-life balance just being a few of them. But the issue can't be fixed so easily by shortening working hours. Increasing minimum wage to a liveable amount would certainly help, so would evolving company cultures.

But we should have figured this all out sooner, long before lockdown began and blurred the lines between work and home. It begs the question: just how bad are the number of work-related deaths now?

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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