`Work can kill' warning

Overwork can kill and the Government should take action to reduce the working week, according to the British Medical Journal.

In an editorial it says that the Government should intervene to prevent health and safety hazards, including overwork, and employers should be responsible for preventing work overload and stress.

In Japan there is a recognised syndrome of "death by overwork" where the family of a man who killed himself after working for 17 months without a day off has recently won compensation from his employer.

The UK has so far resisted a European Union proposal that limiting the working week to 48 hours should be regarded as a health and safety issue.

But several studies seem to prove that working too hard can damage your health. A Danish study of 2,465 bus drivers over seven years found that workload as measured by the intensity of traffic on the drivers' routes was the factor most strongly associated with death or admission to hospital with a heart attack.

The incidence of death and hospitalisation in those with higher workloads was more than twice that in the group with low workloads.

"Of course there have been big improvements in developed countries since the Industrial Revolution but sometimes physical overwork has been replaced by psychological overload," said Susan Michie and Anne Cockcroft, researchers at the Royal Free Hospital and School of Medicine Occupational Health and Safety Unit in London. "And as unemployment has increased over the past decade, those in work have experienced increased workload, work pressure and hours of work."

They called on the Government to introduce legislation and strategies to increase employment, reduce the working week and to prevent health and safety hazards at work.