10-Hour Working Days Increase Stroke Risk – Why Should UK Employers Take Special Notice?

In April 2019, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) shared its analysis of EU Member State working hours and productivity, in 2018.[1]

Last year, full-time employees in the UK worked, on average, 42 hours per-week. Despite working 1.8 hours longer than the average EU worker, UK workers were 8.6% less productive – see the table and graph below.

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Over the past decade, the full-time working week has shortened by 18-minutes, in the UK. Even if EU working hours were to remain unchanged in future years, it would take another 63-years for UK workers to benefit from an equivalent work-life balance, based on the present rate of decline.

One of the health consequences of working longer hours is a heightened risk of stroke, with Kivimäki et al (2015)[2] observing a 33% increase for those working more than 55 hours per week.[3]

In edition 203 of BC Disease News (here), we reported that the same group of experts had identified a similar relationship between atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common type of heart arrhythmia, and long working hours. Given that AF sufferers are 5-times more likely to have a stroke, this was confirmatory of previous study findings regarding stroke risk.

The latest academic literature on the relationship between working hours and stroke was published in an American Heart Association journal, in May 2019.[4]

Starting in 2012, a team of French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) researchers began its review of lifestyle survey and interview data, which corresponded to 143,592 participants, between the ages of 18 and 69, who had taken part in the CONSTANCES (Cohorte des Consultants des Centres d'Examens de Santé) cohort study. Part-time employees and employees who had had a stroke before working long hours were excluded from the investigation.[5]

Records showed that 29.6% of the group worked ‘long hours’, which was classified as ‘working more than 10 hours for at least 50 days per year’.

In addition, 10.1% of the group worked ‘chronic long hours’, which was categorised as working ‘long hours’ over a period of at least 10-years.

It was apparent that self-employed workers, CEO’s and managers were less likely to work long hours.

During the follow-up period, 1,224 (0.8%) participants suffered a stroke.[6]

Strokes occur when the brain’s oxygen and nutrient-rich blood supply is cut off, or restricted, either by a blood clot (ischaemic stroke) or by a burst weakened blood vessel (haemorrhagic stroke).[7] When this happens, brain cells die, which can lead to brain injury, disability and death.

For those who worked ‘long hours’, there was a 29% increase in risk of stroke, compared to those who did not. The increase in risk for those who worked ‘chronic long hours’ was 45%.

Sex had no bearing on the results, as stroke incidence was equally prevalent in men and women.

However, it appears that age may be an influencing factor, as Lead Author, Dr. Alexis Descatha, observed an ‘unexpected’ increase in risk among workers under the age of 50. The Paris Hospital, Angers University and Inserm Researcher has called for supplementary research to further explore this association.[8]    

Elsewhere, the UK Stroke Association’s Head of Research, Dr. Richard Francis, has stressed the importance of controlling stroke risk through personal lifestyle choices:

‘Eating a healthy diet, finding the time to exercise, stopping smoking and getting the recommended amount of sleep can make a big difference to your health’.

 

[1] ‘British workers putting in longest hours in the EU, TUC analysis finds’ (17 April 2019 TUC) <https://www.tuc.org.uk/news/british-workers-putting-longest-hours-eu-tuc-analysis-finds> accessed 16 September 2019.

[2] Kivimäki M et al., Long working hours and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke: a systematic review and meta-analysis of published and unpublished data for 603 838 individuals. Lancet. 2015 Oct 31;386(10005):1739-46. <https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(15)60295-1/fulltext> accessed 17 September 2019.

[3] ‘Working long hours “increases stroke risk”’ (21 August 2015 NHS) <https://www.nhs.uk/news/neurology/working-long-hours-increases-stroke-risk/> accessed 16 September 2019.

[4] Association Between Reported Long Working Hours and History of Stroke in the CONSTANCES Cohort. Stroke. 2019 Jul;50(7):1879-1882. <https://ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/STROKEAHA.119.025454> accessed 16 September 2019.

[5] ‘Long workdays over many years may add up to higher stroke risk’ (20 June 2019 American Heart Association) <https://www.heart.org/en/news/2019/06/20/long-workdays-over-many-years-may-add-up-to-higher-stroke-risk> accessed 16 September 2019.

[6] Ashleigh Webber, ‘Working long hours increases stroke risk, study finds’ (21 June 2019 Personnel Today) <https://www.personneltoday.com/hr/working-long-hours-stroke-risk/> accessed 16 September 2019.

[7] ‘Overview – Stroke’ (3 August 2018 NHS) <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke/> accessed 16 September 2019.

[8] ‘Long working hours “linked to stroke risk”’ (20 June 2019 BBC) <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48703955> accessed 16 September 2019.