The sudden outbreak of COVID-19 in 2019 was somewhat interesting but strangely as it became a destructive disease that took the whole world by surprise. Not until it was declared a pandemic that people began to imagine its sensitivity and adverse effects on humans, all categories of business, tourism, social life, education, just to mention a few.
Unfortunately, some businesses were adversely affected. Many of the well-known establishments are either completely shut down, partially operational, potentially available for sale or struggling to restart thus, resulting in huge job losses and outright economic stagnation.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly changed the way many people work. Teleworking as become the norm in many industries, often blurring the boundaries between home and work.
“In addition, many businesses have been forced to scale back or shut down operations to save money, and people who are still on the payroll end up working longer hours.”
Nigeria was not immune, as the devastating effects of the pandemic led to a lot of Nigerians lossing their jobs. Those who still have jobs had to work long hours.
For instance, Mr Chris Oche who work in the financial sector, in Victoria Island, Lagos, said half of the employees were sacked due to the pandemic. “The rest of us still in the job, work at least 11 hours, because we were given the jobs of those that were sacked,” he told LEADERSHIP.
Though, Mr Sunday Isiakvwe resumes work by 8:00am and closes by 5pm, he told LEADERSHIP that he wakes up as early as 4:00am in the morning, just to meet his resumption time, due to traffic congestion.
“Despite the fact that I close by 5pm, I usually get home by 9pm due to traffic congestion. I barely have enough sleep. I was recently diagnosed with high blood pressure. My doctor told me that if I don’t get a job closer to my house, I may end up with stroke. But there is no job around Ikorodu where I live. If I leave this job, I doubt if I can get another one,” he lamented.
This is also the story of most Nigerians especially those who live at Ikorodu, Berger, Abule-agba etc and their place of work is situated at Lekki and Ajah as they have to face traffic at Ogba, third mainland bridge, Ikorodu, Berger and Ajah which are the traffic zones in the state.
The story is even worst for residents of Ogun state who work in Lagos state as they have to wake up as early as 3:00am and spend four to five hours before getting to their place of work.
Mr Bode Yakubu who lives in Abeokuta fittingly puts it, “I wake up as early as 3:00am and by 4:00am I am at my busstop, waiting to join public bus going to Lagos.
“It takes almost two hours to get to Lagos, where I have to face another traffic at Berger and third mainland bridge. Sometimes I sleep on the bus, because I don’t sleep well at night.”
Explaining her situation, Mrs Adeola Seun said, “I barely have enough sleep. Sometimes I experience severe headache and always exhausted, due to the long hours I spend on the road and at my workplace. Presently, I take drug like pain killer to keep body and soul alive, so I won’t breakdown,” she said.
According to a new report, by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO), long working hours have led to 745, 000 deaths from Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) like stroke and ischemic heart disease in 2016, a 29 per cent increase since 2000.
Published in Environment International (17th May, 2021) the report revealed that in 2016, 398,000 people died from stroke and 347,000 from heart disease as a result of having worked at least 55 hours a week.
The report showed that working 55 or more hours per week is associated with an estimated 35 per cent higher risk of a stroke and a 17 per cent higher risk of dying from ischemic heart disease, compared to working 35 to 40 hours a week.
The new analysis comes as the COVID-19 pandemic shines a spotlight on managing working hours as the pandemic is accelerating developments that could feed the trend towards increased working time.
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP, a Nigerian mental health advocate, Dr. Maymunah Yusuf Kadiri, said people who spend long hours at their work place and on the road, without proper rest and sleep could encounter health challenges like high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, sleep insomnia, depression, eating disorder and anxiety disorder.
Kadiri said spending hours at workplace and in traffic can lead to stress which is a feeling of emotional or physical tension.”Stress can come from any event or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, or nervous. It is your body’s reaction to a challenge or demand. In short bursts, stress can be positive, such as when it helps you avoid danger or meet a deadline. But when stress lasts for a long time, it may harm your health,” she added.
Coping with the impact of chronic stress can be challenging, says the psychologist, adding that the source of long-term stress is more constant as the body finds it difficult to receive a clear signal to return to normal functioning and this can disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems.
“Some people may experience mainly digestive symptoms, while others may have headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger, or irritability. Also, some people can experience mental breakdown which is commonly understood to occur when life’s demands become physically and emotionally overwhelming,” she said.
To find a way out, Kadiri said some may resort to taking hard drugs or pain killers which could lead to drug addiction. She defined addiction as a disease that affects the brain and behaviour. “When you are addicted to drugs, you can’t resist the urge to use them, no matter how much harm the drugs may cause,” she added.
No job is worth the risk of stroke or heart disease, says WHO director general, adding that governments, employers and workers need to work together to agree on limits to protect the health of workers.
In the same vein, director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, WHO, Dr Maria Neira said, “Working 55 hours or more per week is a serious health hazard. It is time that we all, governments, employers, and employees wake up to the fact that long working hours can lead to premature death”.
While most people would blamed the reason they undergo such stress on the high level of unemployment, Kadiri however urged them to reconsider their decision because health is wealth.
She advised employees to seek jobs close to their residences, find a balance between work and recreational activities and create a healthy eating habit.
She urged employers of labour to create housing opportunities for their employees, give them housing allowances, provide means of transportation in terms of staff buses and provide health insurance for them.
With the high rate of unemployment, Kadiri however called on the government to create employment opportunities for citizens in Nigeria.
“Government should allocate funds for small and medium scale business for individuals who want to venture into entrepreneurship but do not have funds for it. Rather than reduce the minimum wage for workers, I called on government to create salary regulation in order for increase living conditions of the citizens,” she added.
WHO however recommended that governments should introduce, implement and enforce laws, regulations and policies that ban mandatory overtime and ensure maximum limits on working time.
There should be collective bargaining agreements between employers and workers’ associations to ensure working time is more flexible, while at the same time agreeing on a maximum number of working hours.
Employees also are advised to share working hours to ensure that numbers of hours worked do not climb above 55 or more per week.