Sedentary work

Spending much of your time at work sitting down? Why would this be a problem?

The technology now commonly used in workplaces has meant many changes to how we work. Many workers spend a large part of our working day sitting down, tethered to their desks in front of a computer screen. The average office worker spends about 80,000 hours seated in the course of their working life and 80% of those who work at the computer every day regularly suffer from health problems. Two thirds suffer from tension and pain in the shoulder and neck, more than half have back problems and around 45% suffer from eye problems and headaches. Research has proven that too much sitting for long stretches of time can be detrimental to your health, regardless of how much you exercise.

How can changes be made to jobs normally requiring prolonged sitting?

The main objective of a job design for a seated worker is to reduce the amount of time the person spends “just” sitting. Frequent changes in the sitting position are not enough to protect against blood pooling in the legs or to prevent other injuries.

Five minutes of a more vigorous activity, such as walking for every 40 to 50 minutes of sitting, can provide protection. These breaks are also beneficial because they give the heart, lungs and muscles some exercise to help counterbalance the effects of sitting for prolonged periods in a relatively fixed position. Where practical, jobs should incorporate “activity breaks” such as work-related tasks away from the desk or simple exercises which employees can carry out at the workstation or work site.

A crucial part of any change is consulting with and getting feedback from elected reps and affected workers. This is particularly because there are always aspects of the job that can and must be tailored to the individual.

The bottom line: workers should have the opportunity to stand up, move around and get off their backsides as frequently as they can. But it should also be remembered that physical activity is just one part of the equation for preventing the harmful effects of prolonged sitting. Other important factors include chair selection, workstation design and training.