Today’s worker spends more time than ever in a seated positon. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that U.S. adults spend between eight and nine hours each day in seated and sedentary positions, mostly at work.
We all know that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to obesity, but the health risks of spending too much time sitting may surprise you. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prolonged sitting time is a risk factor for negative health outcomes including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and premature death.
What about standing instead of sitting? Standing is not the answer. Research shows that prolonged periods of standing work comes with its own human health risks, including circulatory issues and musculoskeletal aches and pains.
However, taking breaks and avoiding prolonged sitting time can significantly reduce the risks associated with too much sitting. One option that has gained traction and has had positive results is the sit-stand workstation. These devices can be elevated or lowered to an appropriate height so that an employee can work either standing or sitting, and employees can change from a standing or seated position at any time during the work day without interrupting their work flow or process.
Research supports a sit-stand paradigm:
A recent study by the CDC found the installation of a sit-stand device was effective at increasing non-sitting time, reducing upper back and neck pain, and improving mood states. Furthermore, the removal of the sit-stand device largely negated all observed improvements within a two-week period.
A 2009 study found that discomfort complaints were significantly reduced among workers using the sit-stand paradigm, and that those workers showed no significant loss of data entry efficiency. The study concluded that implementing a sit-stand workstation is an effective workplace health intervention for reducing adverse effects of occupational “sedentariness” without negatively impacting productivity.
Beyond worker health, employers may be interested in potential costs savings associated with a sit-stand option for workers. A 2011 study reported on Ergoweb compared the musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) cost data on two similar employee groups – one group could adjust their work stations and the other group could not. When comparing all cost (personal and worker compensation costs) the researches saw a three-fold increase in the cost for the employees in the non-adjustable group. When considering only the work related MSD costs, they experienced a 20X increase in costs for the non-adjustable group versus the user-adjustable Group ($74,300 per 100 workers vs. $3,500 per 100 workers, respectively).
But how can a company encourage workers to change their habits and adopt a sit-stand strategy? In a 2012 article, ergonomist Gene Kay, MS, CEA summarized the options an organization should consider:
- Go Big: everyone gets sit-to-stand furniture and coaching & instruction on how/when to use it. This has the highest initial cost but has been shown to produce very good results.
- Go Flexible: reduce your overall real estate footprint by deploying shared sit-to-stand workstations that two or more workers will use in combination with work from home, alternate shifts and periodic joint work in conference rooms etc. This can significantly reduce your real estate costs and produce excellent results with gains in productivity, retention, and engagement.
- Go Alternate: Leave the primary seated station unchanged and identify alternate stand-up areas for other tasks. This could be a small raised portion of the fixed cube for stand up work (paper work, secondary computer tasks, etc.). Central printers and recycling can encourage users to get up and walk, as can, walking to more distant bathrooms and using stairs instead of elevators. This can produce some moderate results with a moderate budget.
- Go Small: If the previous options don’t fit your budget or work demands, then only deploy sit-to-stand for those with a qualifying medical need — look for specific physician recommendations for conditions such as degenerative disc disorder, etc. This produces the least overall return on investment, but will help in individual cases
What else can you do?
If you’re not able or can’t afford to implement a sit-stand workstation, consider two simple options:
- Encourage the use of pedometers, and reward employees who achieve a target step count.
- Remind workers to take breaks. Some companies install software on the employee’s computer timed to remind them to stand up and walk around. Research has indicated that these prompts deliver positive results.
If your company needs help addressing any aspect of worker health, contact Ministry Medical Group Employer Solutions. We assist with:
- Reducing worker compensation claims
- Reducing lost work time
- Reducing costs to the company and the employee related to health care costs and related health insurance
- Improving employee health status and morale
For more information, call (715) 346-5243 or visit our website
Author: Deb Kearns, OT, Industrial Rehabilitation Services Coordinator, Ministry Medical Group Employer Solutions