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What do nurses, retail salespeople, cashiers, machine operators, and assembly line workers all have in common? The nature of their work keeps them on their feet, standing for prolonged periods of time.
While standing is a natural human posture, it can become a health hazard if a worker has to remain on their feet regularly, or for extended periods of time, without relief by changing positions or walking. This prolonged standing can lead to sore feet, swollen legs, and varicose veins. It can also cause issues in other parts of the body, such as low back pain, stiffness in the neck, and general muscular fatigue. Eventually over time, it can even develop into rheumatic diseases due to tendon and ligament damage.
Eliminating hazards at the source is always the most effective solution. As part of an ergonomics program, solutions should focus on physically removing the hazard, followed by improving work design, adjusting work practices, and lastly providing protective equipment to support the worker. The program should also include worker education on signs and symptoms to look out for.
It may not be possible to eliminate the need to stand on the job. But in a well-designed environment, workers are able to frequently change among a variety of well-balanced positions.
Where it is possible, provide a seat so that the worker can do the job either sitting or standing. For work that requires standing only, a seat should be provided regardless to allow the worker to sit occasionally. Seats, working tables and benches should all be adjustable, where possible. Adjustable working height is particularly important to matching the worker’s size to their tasks. Adjustability ensures that the worker has an opportunity to carry out work in well-balanced body positions. When adjusting the working height isn’t possible, consider creating a platform for the workers to stand on that provides enough room to stand and move safely.
Make sure there is enough room for the worker to move around and change body position. Provide built-in foot rails or portable footrests so they can shift body weight from one leg to the other.
Effective job design also includes varying tasks that require changes in body position and using different muscles. Facilitating job rotation and teamwork are both ways to make work easier on the feet by alternating work tasks.
A well-designed workplace combined with a well-designed job makes it possible to work in a physically balanced position without unnecessary strain on the body. Education and training will help the individual work safely, including how to stand, move or lift.
Employers must inform workers about health hazards in the workplace, including body movements and positions that can cause discomfort and potentially lead to chronic injury over the long term. Worker education and training should also address how to adjust specific workplace layouts to the individual's needs.
Rest periods are essential elements of the workday and should be used by the worker to relax when muscles are tired, to move around when muscles are stiff, and to walk when work restricts the ability to change postures or positions. Encourage workers to report any discomforts experienced during work. Reporting can help to identify ways to correct working conditions.
Aching, flat, or tired feet are common among workers who spend most of their time standing on the job Since the human foot is designed for mobility, maintaining an upright stance is extremely tiring.
Selecting the right footwear can help. Where the floors are hard, footwear with thick insulating soles and shock-absorbing insoles should be worn. They should also provide adequate arch and heel support and cushioning while still being comfortable. Footwear that fits poorly or needs repair contributes heavily to foot discomfort. Pointed toes and high heels are particularly inappropriate for working footwear.
The type of flooring used in the workplace is important to comfort, especially on the feet. Hard floors such as concrete are the least comfortable surface to work on. The impact of walking on a hard floor is similar to the impact of a hammer pounding the heel at every step. In general, materials that possess some elasticity, such as wood, cork, carpeting, or rubber, are gentler on working feet.
When changing the floor covering is not practical, anti-fatigue mats may be an option. These mats absorb the shock from walking and their cushioning reduces foot fatigue. When combined with proper work design and quality footwear, they can improve worker comfort. Make sure to install the mats properly to avoid tripping and falling incidents.
A well-designed job and workplace are essential to healthy and safe work. By recognizing ergonomic risks, employers can identify and address the hazards that can lead to discomfort and injuries in workers whose jobs keep them on their feet.
Tips and Tools
This fall, don’t forget about the flu. Although the drive to get people vaccinated against COVID-19 is the dominant public health priority, it’s still important for workplaces to encourage employees to get their yearly influenza (flu) shot.
Like COVID-19, influenza can cause illness, hospitalization and even death (although COVID-19 has higher transmission and mortality rates). In order to be protected from becoming infected or spreading each of these distinct diseases, it’s important to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza this year.
To keep workers healthy throughout the flu season, employers should educate them about the benefits of getting vaccinated against influenza. Offering vaccine clinics on-site can help encourage uptake, as can addressing common misconceptions about flu vaccines, their efficacy, and associated risks.
Here are a few facts that can help encourage flu vaccine uptake in the workplace:
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Navigating the New Normal
As the pandemic continues to change the way we work, people may be feeling uncertain, stressed, and anxious. Employers have the opportunity and the responsibility to lead with workers’ mental health in mind. Dr. Donna Ferguson, a clinical psychologist in the Work Stress and Health Program at the Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, discusses how we can navigate the new normal.
Podcast runs 8:24 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Podcast: Proper Lighting in the Workplace
CCOHS explores how poor lighting can affect worker productivity and offers tips on conducting a lighting audit.
Podcast runs 2:31 minutes. Listen to the podcast now
When it comes to workplace health and safety, it’s not just about protecting employees from physical harm. With growing scientific evidence and legal obligations to protect the psychological well-being of workers, employers are recognizing the importance of both physical and mental health at work.
CCOHS’ new online course on psychological health and safety provides a useful introduction to workplace mental health. Get an overview of the six categories of psychosocial factors and how they impact the psychological health of individuals and groups. This course can be completed in 20 minutes, during which you will develop an understanding of the role you play in promoting mental health at work. This course will benefit anyone looking to improve the safety and well-being of their workplace.
Take the course for free: Psychological Health and Safety Awareness
New COVID-19 Resources
As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, so too does the health and safety guidance for workplaces. The new CCOHS Safe Work app provides instant access to over 120 COVID-19 resources, including industry and sector-specific tip sheets, infographics, videos, and other guidance materials to help workplaces keep their workers and customers safe.
Users can search the app by topic or type of resource, save items to their favourites list, and share videos and other resources with colleagues. Once downloaded, there is no need for an internet connection to run the app. It can be used in remote areas and manufacturing shop floors where connectivity is absent or unreliable.
The CCOHS Safe Work app can be downloaded for free via the CCOHS website.
Are you an occupational health and safety student, or know someone who is? CCOHS is accepting applications for their Dick Martin Scholarship Award. The competition is open to all students enrolled in an occupational health and safety course or program at an accredited Canadian college or university, leading to an occupational health and safety certificate, diploma, or degree.
Two scholarships worth $3,000 each will be awarded to one university student and one college student pursuing their education in a field related to occupational health and safety. CCOHS will also award $500 to each of the winning students’ academic institutions.
To apply, students need to complete an online application, submit a cover letter outlining their aspirations of obtaining a career in the health and safety industry, and write a 1,000-to-1,200-word essay on one of two topics related to occupational health and safety:
Applications are open until 11:59 p.m. EST, January 31, 2022. Scholarship rules, criteria, and other guidelines are available on the CCOHS website. Winners will be announced in early Spring 2022.
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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.
© 2023, Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety