When We Think of Sitting

We Think of “Light Duty”

risk abatement

When we think of those jobs that need the most modification or risk abatement, we think of jackhammers, dock loaders and other heavy material handling, construction and manufacturing jobs.  Volumes have been written and published on evaluating push and pull forces, lifting, and repetition cycles in everything from manufacturing to baggage handling.  This rich history of research and development of best practices has resulted in substantial risk abatement in all types of jobs, avoiding injuries for countless workers and saving employers millions each year.

When we think of sitting jobs, we think of light duty.  This may be the greatest abyss of modern day safety and health management.  The short and long term physical consequences of prolonged sitting are now the topic of much research and media.  Studies have shown that the average office worker may sit up to 12 – 14 hours a day when work and home activities are combined.  The rate of obesity and metabolic syndrome are much higher in the seated workforce.  As well, several studies have pointed to the increase in heart disease.

What is less talked about is the lumbar and thoracic disc pressure while sitting, as well as the pressure on the hips.  These forces create wear and tear that is overlooked as part of many safety and health strategies, but manifest in chronic treatment and eventual bone and joint degeneration.  Aside from the sitting forces, the postural stress of inadequate work station design, including adjustability in desk height, chairs, lighting and work placement, can result in cervical and thoracic issues as well as shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand pain.  Sick days, lost productivity and treatment costs for these conditions are not as well documented or understood but clearly incurred.

2017 should be the year that we think about the seated workstation as a targeted risk abatement strategy.  This ‘not so light duty’ impact on the health and well-being of the seated workforce can be prevented with some strategy and focus.  Education and employee engagement in good work practices and healthy work management can make a huge difference.  Five programs to consider:

  1. Evaluate the seated workstations in your company. If you have not already done so, look at the options to improve seated work.  Set short and long term goals to address re-design.
  2. Move it . . . Move it: Encourage employees to take breaks from sitting.  Create pre-work or lunch team walks to increase activity and boost team interaction.
  3. Smart watches, software and other electronics can be set to remind workers to move. If work tasks allow, encourage workers to stand during conference calls, during quick conversations with co-workers, during meetings or other opportunities.
  4. Create challenges for at-work or at-home activities. Alternating the challenge weekly keeps interest and encourages participation.  Offer prizes or recognition to individuals or teams as part of this challenge.
  5. Diet and nutrition education is key. If food is available during the work day at the office, work to create healthier options for employees.  Encourage participation, including lean recipe contests, team weight loss goals, and healthy cook-off challenges.  Inspire the teams to create other motivating activities.

At the end of the day, a healthy workforce initiative is an intentional choice to acknowledge the need and begin to create the change.


US National Library of Medicine, National Institute on Health, PMC3419586 and PMC3477898

Occupational Biomechanics, Third Edition, Don Chaffin, Gunnar B.J. Andersson and Bernard J Martin.  9.4.3 Disc Pressure Data During Sitting.


By: Connie Miller, CCM, CDMS, CPE
Vice President, Business Development