Workplace health and safety risks such as manual handling and injuries from interactions with plant equipment and vehicles have been recognised since the beginnings of the workplace safety movement in Victorian times, and office-based risks such as repetitive strain or occupational overuse injuries have been widely recognised in more recent times.

New categories of work-related health risks are rarely added to the compendium, however recent research is indicating a whole new area of risk of which workers and safety professionals alike need to be aware – that of sedentary work.

Sedentary work (specifically meaning too much time spent sitting, versus just generalised inactivity) is increasingly common in the modern workplace. The growth of both the computing and service industries has meant that an increasingly large proportion of the population spend the working day seated at a desk.

For some time now the medical professional has been researching the health effects of this growth in sedentary behaviour (e.g. here), but only in recent years has the weight of evidence become sufficient to raise significant public health concern; especially since taking regular exercise before or after work has been found not to mitigate the effects of sitting too much (e.g. here).

The evidence is now convincing enough for doctors to question whether employers are providing a safe system of work in accordance with their legislative obligations, if they allow their employees to sit for extended periods of time (refer to a relevant report here).

The message is for employers to “provide systems of work in which workers sit less, move more, and move more often”.

There is a range of possible actions which employers can take to reduce the risk to their sedentary workers. These include:

  • Instituting standing or walking meetings
  • Ensuring workers take regular breaks that involve activity, such as walking
  • Redesigning tasks so that regular changes to posture are required
  • Encourage regular postural changes, e.g. always standing when taking a phone call, alarms or software that interrupt the user to encourage a moving break
  • Encourage drinking lots of water; the water helps to energize the muscles and prevent fatigue and actively requires a change in posture to visit the kitchen and the bathroom
  • Providing adjustable standing desks
  • Providing exercise breaks within the work day, e.g. a yoga class
  • Redesign the workplace so that layout encourages movement.

Please contact QRMC for more information.