Sitting at Work

Health and Safety to Go ep. 188: Sitting at Work


Ashley:Hello and welcome to CCOHS Podcasts. Today we're exploring the topic of sitting at work.

Chris: Sitting seems harmless, right? But did you know there is the potential for injury? Sitting jobs may require less effort from your muscles, but it also means you're working in a fixed position, which can limit bloodflow and cause discomfort.

For example, clerks, assembly-line employees, and data entry operators - anyone who works in a sitting position for extended periods of time, really - can suffer from back pain, muscle tenderness, and aches.

Ashley:That's right. In fact, reports of varicose veins, stiff necks, and numbness in the legs are more common among seated employees than among those doing heavier tasks. Regardless of a person's level of physical activity, this sedentary time has been found to be associated with health effects such as diabetes, heart disease, and poor mental health.

Let's talk about how working while sitting affects circulation and blood flow.

Chris : Well, sitting requires our muscles to hold the trunk, neck and shoulders in a fixed position. A fixed working position squeezes the blood vessels in the muscles, reducing the blood supply to the working muscles just when they need it the most. An insufficient blood supply accelerates fatigue and can make muscles more prone to injury.

There is also less demand on the circulatory system while sitting. As a result, heart rate and blood flow slow down.

An insufficient blood flow can cause blood to pool, especially in the lower legs. Pressure under the thighs from a seat that is too high can further aggravate this. The result can be swollen or numb legs and eventually varicose veins. We can also feel fatigued.

Ashley: That explains why an employee might sit all day long doing little physical work and still feel tired at the end of their shift.

Chris: Exactly.

Ashley : Let's look at some other potential hazards. Limited mobility contributes to injuries in the parts of the body that move us: the muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments. Another factor is the steady tension on certain regions of the body. The neck and lower back are usually the most affected.

Why, you ask?

Chris: I was just about to ask why!

Ashley: Well, prolonged sitting reduces body movement making muscles more likely to pull, cramp or strain when stretched suddenly. It causes fatigue in the back and neck muscles by slowing the blood supply, and puts high tension on the spine, especially in the low back or neck.

Chris: Sounds painful.

Ashley: It doesn't feel good, that's for sure.

Chris: So how can we prevent injuries when working from a seated position? The key thing to pay attention to is body position and the how long you're sitting.

For each major joint such as the hips, knees, and elbows, there are ranges that a person finds comfortable. These positions should not impact your breathing or circulation, interfere with movement or affect your internal organs.

Changing up your positions regularly is the essence of "good sitting."

A good sitting position allows employees to change their body positions frequently and naturally within their acceptable range. They should be able to do that whenever they want, without being restricted by the work station or how the job is designed.

Ashley: So, what should employers and people designing these sitting jobs consider?

Chris: Consider what kind of manual movement or force needs to be exerted while seated. For light tasks, wrist and arm supports may help. For heavier tasks, you might want to arrange the work surface below their elbows. Make sure the employee can keep the spine vertically aligned while exerting force. They should not have to lift and transfer loads horizontally.

Ashley:So essentially, we need to allow and encourage workers to take breaks. Aim for five minutes of a moderate to vigorous activity like walking, for every 40 to 50 minutes of sitting. These breaks are also beneficial because they give the heart, lungs and muscles some exercise. Where practical, jobs should incorporate "activity breaks" such as work tasks away from the desk or simple exercises which employees can carry out on the job.

When it comes to job design, it's also important to get feedback from employees! They know their jobs the best and can help you come up with tailored solutions that work well for them.

Chris: That's right. To be clear, no matter how well the workplace is designed, an employee who sits for long periods will experience discomfort. What we can do is reduce the time they spend just sitting. Just changing up the sitting position is not enough to protect against blood pooling in their legs, for example.

Ashley: Employees doing foot tasks should have pedals located directly in front of them to prevent their hips from twisting. It's important that they're able to support their body evenly.

All workstation components, such as the chair, desk and computer, work bench or panel in a control room, can affect a worker's body position. As we mentioned earlier, the worker should be able to frequently change their body positions.

Chris: Absolutely. Then there's the design of the workstation. Visual tasks place tension on the neck, trunk and pelvis, so we need to reduce strain on the neck.

Injuries from sitting often happen over time, so educating employees on proper body position and injury prevention is key. Encourage employees to report any signs of discomfort early so that together, the employer and the employee, can make changes before the injury progresses further. These might include decreasing the amount of time spent sitting, job rotation or splitting up tasks, altering the employee's workstation design, or increasing active breaks throughout the day.

Explain the health hazards of prolonged sitting and give recommendations on what employees can do. Make sure they are trained on how to adjust their workstation to fit their individual needs for specific tasks. Also make sure they know how to readjust their workstation throughout the day to relieve muscle tension.

Emphasize the importance of active rest periods and allow them to take breaks away from their workstation.

Ashley: And these are techniques they can also apply outside of work! So, to recap, don't assume that the risk of injury is low for those sitting at work - that's actually far from the case. Look for ways to improve the design and adjustability of workstations and jobs, encourage frequent short activity breaks, and educate workers on how to recognize and report early signs of discomfort.

Chris: For more resources, visit our website and search 'sitting at work.' Thanks for listening!