News stories about the dangers of sitting down for too long at work are something we’re seeing more and more of. The government’s 2011 ‘Start Active, Stay Active’ report recognised the health risks it poses, recommending breaking up long periods of sitting time with “shorter bouts of activity for just one to two minutes”. A recent report published in June 2015 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine also warned that staying seated for too long is a ‘silent killer’ – and recommended that office workers spend two hours on their feet a day.
But what about the other end of the scale? A lot of guidance is given to employees who sit down at desks all day, but in reality, 75% of the world’s working population spend all day at work on their feet – working in industries such as agriculture, construction, waitressing or retail. Prolonged standing at work can also be associated with health problems – including tiredness, backaches, bunions, leg cramps, and excess pressure on joints, which can all affect job performance and cause significant discomfort. A new study published in the journal Human Factors suggests that, over time, this type of sustained muscle fatigue can also result in health consequences.
As part of the study, researchers asked 14 men and 12 women of two different age groups to simulate standing work for five-hour periods. Participants were able to sit down during brief rest breaks and take a 30-minute lunch. Although it was a very small study, early indications suggest evidence of significant long-term fatigue following the five-hour workday, even when it included regular breaks. The report authors also found that the negative symptoms continued for at least 30 minutes following a seated recovery period.
Around 7 million workers in Britain spend four hours or more a day standing. That’s a lot of people who could have health issues develop due to working jobs which require them to stand up for most of the day.
Luckily, there are ways to combat this. Those whose jobs require them to remain standing for most of the day should change working positions frequently, so they only stay in one position for a reasonably short time. They should also avoid bending, stretching and twisting too much, as this can exacerbate the problem, and they should pace their work appropriately so that they aren’t constantly rushing around.
Although prolonged sitting is an issue – long periods of standing can also be problematic – but employers can take a number of practical steps to support their employees who have to remain on their feet all day. Allowing staff suitable rest periods to relax is key. It is also important to provide employees with clear instructions on proper work practices and the use of rest periods, and make sure that they are taking the correct amount of breaks. The Fit for Work advice hub contains lots of useful information for employees and employers on topics like ‘work adjustments for sufferers of back pain’.