15 October, 2021
What do you think is the bigger workplace killer – occupational injuries or long working hours?
A study from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) revealed that almost 2 million people die from work-related causes each year. Shockingly, the occupational risk factor with the largest number of attributable deaths was exposure to long working hours, linked to approximately 750,000 deaths annually.
There has been greater organisational emphasis on workplace health and safety in recent years, leading to an overall decrease in deaths per population by 14% between 2000 and 2016. However, deaths from heart disease and stroke associated with exposure to long working hours rose by 41% and 19% respectively over the same timeframe.
This raises the question, do companies need to broaden the scope of what they consider occupational health and safety?
The ‘go the extra mile’ ethos famously upheld by the investment banking industry with its 90+ hour working weeks spring to mind, and while these are undoubtedly part of the problem, the real eye opener is that the underlying contributors may not always be as extreme as this. The WHO/ILO study considers long-working hours to be anything upwards of 55 hours – a working week which may be all too familiar to a wide-range of professions, including teachers, plumbers and hospitality workers.
Additionally, recent studies suggest workers are reporting increased work demands and a deepening of the ‘always on’ culture due to Covid-19 associated working from home.
Health and safety of employees goes well beyond workplace accidents; we need to consider wellbeing in its broadest sense. It is all too easy for companies which do not have direct warehouse or manufacturing operations to think occupational health and safety doesn’t matter so much for them. These findings should be a wake-up call for governments and businesses to not only broaden the scope of what they consider occupational health and safety but also to take this much more seriously – lives quite literally depend on it.
By Budd Nicholson