Regular Overtime Linked to Heart Disease in New Study
The virtues of working overtime invariably hinge on issues affecting immediate prosperity, such as increased cash flow, managed workloads and opportunities for promotion. Indeed, in many circles, an internal promotion at work is unthinkable unless regular overtime is put in by those eager to climb the corporate ladder. The financial rewards of working regular overtime, however, ought to be weighed against the physical and mental strains of spending more hours in the office. It is common knowledge that a careful balance must be struck between work and relaxation in order to maintain a healthy state of mind and physical well-being.
Where overtime regularly eats into hours that would otherwise have been used for recreational purposes, the equilibrium between work and play becomes more unsettled. Until recently, this imbalance was thought to be little more than an inconvenience; however, new research suggests that it can have a devastating impact on human health. According to a study of 6,000 British civil servants, working several hours of overtime each day can increase the risk of workers suffering heart disease by around 60 per cent. The study, which was published online in the European Heart Journal, found that those workers who regularly put in 10-hour days or longer are far more likely to develop heart disease than those who regularly work normal 7-hour days.
Accident claims involving occupational health issues have become more common in recent times, most likely as a result of an increasing awareness among members of the general public as to their legal rights in the workplace. Employers have a statutory duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of their employees under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. In the common law, it is also the case that employers have a duty of care to their employees, which, if breached, can result in expensive personal injury claims. Although some employers seem to believe that health and safety applies only to accidents – especially those including slips, trips or falls – that lead to physical injury, it is also the case that illness can form the basis of a claim for compensation.
The latest research on the effects of longer working hours recorded 369 cases of heart disease causing death, a heart attack or angina; in other words, there was a strong statistical correlation between the number of hours worked and cardiac health. Overtime itself is not thought to directly cause heart disease, but it is an integral component of its development. Employees who regularly work overtime typically have less time to relax, unwind and exercise, which are all important in staving off the physical effects of stress and depression.
Medical health experts have urged caution following publication of the study. Cathy Ross, a senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, confirmed that the study “raises further questions about how our working lives can influence our risk of heart disease”, whilst lead researcher of the study, Mianna Virtanen, said that more research was necessary before a link between overtime and heart disease could be made with any degree of accuracy.