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Office safety

NIOSH seeks feedback on prolonged standing

February 3, 2015
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NIOSH wants your help.

No one can reasonably argue that sitting all day at work isn’t bad for your … everything. However, workers who spend all day on their feet also face possible health consequences.

The agency recently published an article on its science blog regarding prolonged standing at work for employees such as retail workers, doctors and nurses. Researchers reviewed literature on the subject and found studies that consistently reported health problems such as low-back pain, physical fatigue, muscle pain and swelling in the legs.

With that in mind, NIOSH wants to hear from employers and workers alike about their experiences with prolonged standing at work. How have employers addressed the issue? Which strategies have worked, and which strategies have not worked? Those interested may reply to the comment section of NIOSH’s blog entry.

NIOSH recently participated in a question-and-answer session with Safety+Health on the topic of prolonged standing.

S+H: What (if any) trends exist in this area? Are we seeing an increase in sit-stand workstations, for example? Do employers appear to be receptive to prolonged standing as a legitimate health and wellness issue?

NIOSH: There does appear to be an increase in sit-stand work stations in the popular press media, but quantifiable versus anecdotal evidence of effectiveness is probably not yet available. The health care segment has shown interest and the Prolonged Standing Review was published in a nursing journal. Manufacturing, retail trades and grocery stores also have jobs that require prolonged standing and are important areas to study.

S+H: We often hear about the dangers of prolonged sitting at work. This review explores the dangers of prolonged standing. How do workers find the right balance? Are we stuck? Should we just settle for being unhealthy?

NIOSH: The review did mention prolonged sitting in covering the research on the effectiveness of sit-stand chairs and adjustable workstations as effective interventions. Recent publication (Karakolis, T. & Callaghan, Applied Ergonomics, 45, 799-806) evaluated studies that included a sit-stand workstation on prolonged standing, prolonged sitting or a combination of both types. Results showed sit-stand workstations lowered subjective discomforts. Jobs requiring prolonged sitting and prolonged standing have been around for a long time. Recent attention may be focused on prolonged sitting, because of the use of computers, but years ago it was typewriter pools and telephone operators that were probably the jobs requiring prolonged sitting with possible published studies on the health effects. The underlying issue is a “fixed posture” for a long period of time. Workers and employers should try and minimize a fixed posture to the extent possible to reduce the risk of a serious health problem. When workers report pain and discomfort that should be interpreted as a warning signal.

S+H: What kind of feedback would you like to hear from employers and workers regarding this review?

NIOSH: We would like to hear from employers and workers on whether this review was helpful in raising the awareness of prolonged standing as a workplace health issue, and are there effective interventions that are being used and any suggestions for future research needs.

S+H: What industries does NIOSH hope to hear from?

NIOSH: We are most interested in retail and wholesale jobs, which include sales, cashiers, stockers, and material handling.

S+H: How would NIOSH like to use this information moving forward?

NIOSH: We would like to help ensure that employees have enough flexibility in their work schedule to allow them to move about, as needed, and alternate sitting and standing as needed; as any prolonged posture will cause discomfort, which can lead to other problems including circulatory issues.

S+H: What makes this issue of prolonged standing worth analyzing?

NIOSH: We are less interested in the problem of “prolonged standing” as we are in the solutions noted above that should allow for maximum flexibility in selecting postures, whether they be standing, sitting, bending, lifting, etc. Each individual will have different needs, so there is no need to prescribe any posture as good or bad. It is always a matter of allowing employees control over how they do their work and the flexibility it allows to minimize a fixed posture. Some individuals will prefer one posture over the other: “When I was younger I liked to stand; now that I am older I prefer sitting but, always, I would like to be able to move around when my body signals discomfort.” Finally, defining or quantifying “prolonged” can be difficult. Our bodies require movement to be healthy and the extent and nature of the movement needs to be defined in terms of the employee’s need to be comfortable. Productivity also suffers when workers are experiencing chronic discomfort; discomfort is distracting and leads to mistakes.

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