Death by workplace inactivity


The BBC recently ran a headline news story warning office workers of the dangers of prolonged sedentary working, linking too much time sat at the desk to a list of health problems, from heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancers, poor mental health and even metabolic slowdown. Experts described inactivity in the workplace as “one of the biggest” challenges in health.

We spoke to Avensure’s Health and Safety Manager, Lee Churchill,  about the validity of the BBC’s report, and here is his response:

“The human body is designed for movement and should alternate between sitting, standing and activities (e.g. walking). Employees needing to spend long periods in a seated position in roles such as drivers, call centre and office workers, are at risk for injury and a variety of adverse health effects.

The most common injuries occur in the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments, affecting the neck and lower back. Prolonged sitting reduces body movement making muscles more likely to pull, cramp or strain when stretched suddenly, causes fatigue in the back and neck muscles by slowing the blood supply and puts tension on the spine, especially in the low back or neck, and causes a steady compression on spinal discs that hinders their nutrition and can contribute to their premature degeneration.

Moving towards the solution

Sitting less and moving more offers the following benefits:

  • lower risk of musculoskeletal pain, discomfort and injury, particularly of the lower back and neck
  • lower risk of developing coronary heart disease
  • lower risk of developing diabetes
  • lower risk of eye strain or fatigue
  • healthy maintenance of the circulatory system and digestive tract

Stand up to the risks

Health and safety risks from sedentary work can be minimised by employers through:

  • use job task variation to decrease the total amount of time call handlers are working in sedentary activities
  • provide height adjustable desks that allow operatives to alternate between sitting and standing
  • use cordless headsets or corded headsets that allow call handlers to stand and move around their workstation during calls, as long as other workers are not adversely affected
  • promote and support standing team meetings
  • ensure all workers take regular and frequent breaks throughout the day in addition to toilet and meal breaks
  • encourage workers to take meal breaks away from their desks
  • locate printers, photocopiers and water coolers away from the workstation to encourage all workers to stand and move around
  • alternate the tasks of workers between sitting, standing and walking

Like your business, stay upwardly mobile

Employees should have the opportunity to move around and get out of their seats as frequently as possible. To prevent the harmful effects of being seated for prolonged periods, it should be noted that physical activity is just one mitigating factor. Workstation design, chair selection and training are some of the other factors to be considered.”

For more information about me, come see my profile: Lee Churchill