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When we consider dangers to worker safety in the workplace, often it’s manual and labour intensive professions that we consider are the highest risk activities. However a new report from Comcare has shown this is not the case – your sedentary workplace could be fatal.

So sit back in your ergonomic chair, here are some serious health consequences for workers sitting for long periods of time:.

  • on average, office workers sit for 76% of the day
  • considerable evidence suggests that prolonged sitting increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and death
  • people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 per cent increased risk of death in the next three years compared with people who sit for less than four hours
  • workers who have been in sedentary roles for more than 10 years have double the risk of colon cancer
  • prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor, even if you engage in regular exercise
  • long periods of sitting are a suspected risk factor in the development of musculoskeletal disorders
  • even short, regular breaks from sitting can be beneficial for workers’ health

Comcare’s has released work practices guidance and a toolkit for human resources and OH&S managers which suggests a variety of cost-effective organisational, team and individual strategies that can be implemented to reduce the risks associated with sedentary work practices..

Some of the organisational practices suggested include:

  • The installation of sit-to-stand workstations which encourages workers to stand up more often
  • Update meeting agenda templates to include a standing agenda item, and encourage staff to stand during meetings
  • Encourage walking meetings between individuals or small groups.
  • Locate facilities to encourage incidental movement. For example, replacing individual workstation waste disposal units with a larger central unit, and moving printing and other facilities away from workstations.
  • Remind management of the importance of modelling behaviours—if workers see their managers standing more often it will encourage them to do the same..

Some strategies for individuals include:

  • Walk laps of the floor at regular intervals to break up the day, take the stairs and eat lunch away from the building
  • Drink more water so you have to go to the water cooler (and bathroom) more often.
  • Park your car further away from work or park in short-term parking so you have to walk back to move your car.
  • Step outside for fresh air regularly..

The many benefits to sitting less and moving more, include:

  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes
  • Improved weight management
  • Reduced sedentary practices can reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). MSDs are one of the most common types of worker injury and are very costly for workplaces. Costs that often result from MSDs include workers’ compensation costs, lost work time, rehabilitation costs, worker replacement costs, presenteeism (the act of attending work while sick ) and work-overflow impacts for other workers in the team.
  • A reduction in sedentary work practices led to improvements in self-reported productivity.
  • Workplaces that invest in worker health and wellbeing are more likely to attract and retain talent, as good health and wellbeing programs promote the health and engagement of the workforce

So will employers take this news sitting down or standing up?

Reports & References:

Comcare : The_business_case_for_reducing_sedentary_work_practices.pdf
Comcare: Benefits_of_movement_-_be_upstanding!.pdf
Comcare: Stand_up_Comcare.pdf