Sedentary Work and Health

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In 2015 the HSE launched the Workplace Health Expert Committee (WHEC) to provide independent expert opinion on new and emerging issues in workplace health.

The WHEC recently carried out a review of scientific research and published a position paper looking at the impacts on health of sedentary work.

The paper finds that while sedentary lifestyles are shown to increase the risk of various health problems including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, lung and breast cancers, the evidence relating health issues to sedentary work was less consistent.

The did find studies which showed an increased mortality from all causes and cancer for women only in sitting occupations, however no links were found cardiovascular mortality in men or women.

Also while there was little recent evidence for musculoskeletal problems in the general working population there was evidence for adolescents and young workers, this may represent increased use of new technologies by younger workers.

Overall the paper finds “that physical activity in leisure time is, generally, health beneficial but that some physically active occupations may result in poorer health. This needs to be clarified to prevent confusion amongst employers and employees.” They also recommend “Opportunities for reducing prolonged periods of sitting through better work organisation should be further studied”.

The position paper can be found on the HSE’s website at: https://webcommunities.hse.gov.uk/connect.ti/WHEC/view?objectId=685957

So what can you do? Every workplace is different and different jobs have different needs but generally unless the work requires frequent stretching or twisting to reach or pick up objects, people prefer to sit rather than stand. Where possible workstation design should allow for free movement, seating should be comfortable and employees should be able to take adequate rest breaks away from their workstation.

It may also help to give workers opportunities for movement by incorporating a variety of tasks or by using job rotation.

Please speak to your normal PIB Risk Management contact or get in touch using info@pibrm.com  if you have any questions or would like to arrange a Health and Safety compliance audit.