An hour at the gym after a day spent at the office may no longer be the solution to achieving a healthy working lifestyle. Those hours spent sitting at work or on the computer are being reexamined in light of information revealing that workers need to get up and get active regularly throughout the day or face potentially serious health consequences. Learn more about this issue and how the solution to reducing the risks of sitting down may be as simple as standing up.
Today, working Canadians are sitting more often and for longer periods of time than ever before. Studies have shown that adults in developed countries spend more than half of their day sitting down. At first glance, this information appears to demonstrate the evolution of work and a move away from more physically demanding labour toward easier, less strenuous work. However, researchers have found that the amount of time a person sits during the day is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death, regardless of how much exercise they may get outside of work. Even with the benefits that come with regular daily physical activity, this activity alone may not be enough to counter the risk for diseases when you are sitting down for the rest of the day.
Mechanization and automation have affected virtually every sector of the Canadian economy. New technologies have changed the way people work in industry and in offices. As machines replace work previously done manually, more people are working in a sitting position to operate these machines. With computers and telecommunications tools on every desk, office workers often sit uninterrupted for much of their day with little reason to get up.
Humans weren't designed to sit all day. As such, sitting for long periods is a serious occupational health and safety problem. When your daily routine includes sitting for extended periods, the muscles in your legs that normally help pump blood aren't used much and as a result, blood can flow backwards in leg veins and pool, causing varicose veins and blood clots.
Prolonged sitting also requires your muscles to hold your trunk, neck and shoulders in a fixed position. Due to the lack of movement while sitting, there is less demand on the circulatory system and blood flow slows down. Blood vessels in your muscles are squeezed, reducing the blood supply, which leads to fatigue and makes muscles prone to injury. This fatigue is why sitting all day long doing little physical work can leave you feeling tired at the end of the day.
Sitting can also lead to increased body weight due to slowed metabolism, inflammation and hormonal changes that may promote certain types of cancers. According to recent studies, this relationship between sedentary behaviour and cancer risk appears to be unaffected by levels of physical activity, suggesting that long periods of time spent sitting can negatively impact your health no matter how much you exercise.
Reduced body movement makes muscles more likely to pull, cramp, or strain when stretched suddenly. Fatigue in the back and neck muscles occurs as a result of the slowing of the blood supply and puts high tension on the spine, especially in the low back or neck. It also can cause a steady decompression on the spinal discs and can contribute to their premature degeneration.
Tips to get you out of your seat
The key to reducing the health risks associated with prolonged sitting on the job is to change the way you work. Try to introduce regular physical activity throughout the day and making it part of your daily working routine.
- Track the time that you are sedentary so you can work to reduce the overall amount.
- Aim to decrease the amount of time you are sedentary by two to three hours over a 12-hour day.
- Set achievable goals and find opportunities to incorporate physical activity in your daily life.
- Set an alarm to remind yourself to stand up at work and move around for one to three minutes every half hour. Check out the various smart watches and apps that are available which will remind you to move throughout the day.
- Consider a standing work station. An ideal candidate for a sit-stand desk might be someone who is tied to the computer or phone and can't routinely get away from the desk.
- Take your phone calls standing up.
- Stand up and stretch frequently during the course of your day. Being fully upright burns twice as many calories as does sitting. It also helps to strengthen bones and muscles through weight bearing gravity.
How employers can help
- Recognize the impact of prolonged sitting on your employees and encourage workers to get up and move throughout the day.
- Consider providing workstations that allow a worker to do their work both in a sitting and standing work position.
- Support awareness by talking about this issue and addressing it.
- Hold walking or standing meetings.
The main objective of a job design for a seated employee is to reduce the amount of time the person spends "just" sitting. Frequent changes in sitting position are not enough to protect against blood pooling in your legs. Five minutes of a more vigorous activity or going for a short walk every 40-50 minutes can protect you from swollen legs and give the heart, lungs and muscles some exercise. Where practical, jobs should incorporate "activity breaks" such as work-related tasks away from the desk or simple exercises which employees can carry out on the worksite.
Employee feedback is an important aspect of job design. Consultation with employees can secure their active participation and personalize their work.
Reducing the amount of time you spend sitting while at work is increasingly important. Opportunities for regular physical activity at work are a good habit that can also be applied in your personal life, and can help you to maintain better overall health.
Tips & Tools
With the recent announcement of the changes to Canada's Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS 2015), a website has been released to help Canadians transition from the old WHMIS system to WHMIS 2015 which implements the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
The website, WHMIS.org: Canada's National WHMIS Portal, provides Canadians with a single point of access to the most current information about WHMIS 2015 from all of the jurisdictions across Canada. The website also contains helpful tools and resources for workers, employers, suppliers and trainers.
There are WHMIS requirements from Health Canada for manufacturers, distributors and importers as well as WHMIS workplace requirements from every province, territory and the federal Labour program that impact Canadian workplaces. WHMIS.org will be kept up-to-date with current information regarding the status of new and existing WHMIS laws and requirements in each jurisdiction.
WHMIS.org is a national resource developed by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in collaboration with the Workplace Hazardous Materials Bureau of Health Canada (formerly the National Office of WHMIS) and each of the federal, provincial and territorial occupational health and safety regulatory jurisdictions across Canada.
The website can be found at www.WHMIS.org.
WHMIS (After GHS) for Workers free e-course, CCOHS
WHMIS 2015 Pictograms poster, CCOHS
The Workplace Health, Safety and Compensation Commission (WHSCC) of Newfoundland and Labrador is revising its certification program for occupational health and safety committees and worker health and safety representatives.
The new program will be shorter, with a minimum of 14 hours, and has been condensed into one course. The program content will be updated to include a practical component, reflect new legislation, introduce case studies and use new training materials.
"The number of registered OH&S Committees in Newfoundland and Labrador has more than tripled in the last decade, with over 3,800 committees at the end of 2014," said Tom Mahoney, Executive Director, Worker Services with the Workplace Health Safety and Compensation Commission. "It is extremely important that we offer training to these committees so that they are aware of their responsibilities and stay current with legislation in a way that is relevant and engaging."
The new program will come into effect July 1, 2015. Those who have already completed the existing training program will have until June 30, 2018 to re-certify, and then must renew their certification every three years.
Committee training is available province-wide from over 95 training providers. Trainers are required to attend a curriculum orientation session in order to be ready to deliver the new program. These sessions start in March 2015.
More information about the changes to the certification program is available at www.whscc.nl.ca.
Health and Safety To Go
This month's Health and Safety To Go! podcasts feature a special two-part mini-series on violence in the workplace.
Podcast 1: Workplace Violence: Identifying the Problem From physical to negative verbal interactions, this episode gives an overview of the different types of workplace violence.
The podcast runs 3:34 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Podcast 2: Workplace Violence: Taking Action This episode focuses on the risk factors associated with workplace violence as well as prevention strategies. Part one of the series is entitled Workplace Violence: Identifying the Problem.
The podcast runs 4:25 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
Canada is aligning the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).
CCOHS has produced a poster of the WHMIS 2015 pictograms to help workers understand the new information they are seeing.
Standardized pictograms, which immediately show the user of a hazardous product what type of hazard is present, will be on the supplier labels and safety data sheets (as the symbol or name of the symbol). This poster is printed double-sided, with English on one side and French on the other.
Join the Conversation
Come hangout with CCOHS on Wednesday, March 11, 2015, from 1:00 - 1:30 pm EST.
Save the date and join +CCOHS and Glenn French, President and CEO of the Canadian Initiative on Workplace Violence, for a candid discussion about workplace violence prevention.
About Google Hangouts
How to attend: To sign up for the Hangout, use your existing Google account, or create one for free.
Participate in the conversation by typing your questions into the chat window. Time permitting they will be answered live during the session. Otherwise, they will be answered post-event.
Sign up at our Google Hangouts page
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
© 2017, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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