Employers should encourage less sitting at work to beat health risks

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Workers need to be encouraged to work more dynamically and move more, a report into the health risks of prolonged sitting has concluded.

According to the study by EU-OSHA, the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, 18 per cent of adults sit for more than 7.5 hours in total during the day.

Well over a third (39 per cent) of workers carry out their work while sitting down and 28 per cent of workers report sitting almost all the time without breaks.

Prolonged sitting – which is sitting for more than two hours at a stretch – carries significant health risks, say the authors who have reviewed the research in this area.

Microbreaks are important to stretch and move to prevent ill health effects from prolonged sitting. Photograph: iStock

Health effects linked to prolonged sitting include low back pain, neck and shoulder complaints, certain types of cancers and premature death.

Sitting also risks diabetes and cardiovascular disease, because muscle activity in the large leg muscles is necessary for blood flow to the heart, but prolonged sitting decreases this activity.

The report is therefore urging employers to help their staff by giving them sufficient control over their work so that they can alter how they work and take a break when needed. Microbreaks are important to stretch and move.

Contrary to the DSE advice which shows the picture of the ‘perfect’ upright posture, the authors say that ‘always maintaining’ a good posture is ‘no longer considered ideal and is being replaced by the concept of ‘dynamic sitting’”.

“The general goal is to promote a dynamic, active workstyle: moving more and sitting less. Workers should be able to adopt a variety of positions when working and preferably be able to vary between sitting, standing and moving around,” they explain.

Office workers and those who work from home are among those most at risk from health complications associated with prolonged sitting, it found. Drivers, pilots, crane operators and sewing machine operators also had higher than average health risks from prolonged sitting.

Workers can take action and aim to spend 50 per cent or less of their working day sitting, it advises. They should also

  • Aim to get up at least every 20-30 minutes to avoid prolonged sitting and
  • Always get up for at least 10 minutes after two hours of sitting.
  • Maximum cumulative sitting time for work should not exceed five hours each day.

“Our bodies need to move around to function well: avoiding static postures is important to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and other health problems,” summarise authors.

Prolonged static sitting at work: Health effects and good practice advice is available to download here


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