Sitting V Standing

Sitting v standing — the risks

The health risks of sedentary work, for example, among office workers who sit in front of computers for the vast majority of their day, have been well documented in recent years.

Prolonged standing at work: the law

According to the HSE, while there is no specific legislation that relates to prolonged standing, the risk to employees’ health and safety from working in a standing position would fall under the general provisions of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and its associated regulations, e.g. the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.

The HSE therefore advises that pragmatic controls that consider both seated and standing work are identified through an appropriate risk assessment.

Crucially, the HSE also emphasises the importance of involving and engaging the workforce in the risk assessment process, as staff can provide feedback on their workstation and practices that can lead to pragmatic and sensible adjustments.

How to reduce the risks from standing

Job design is a critical factor in protecting the health of staff who need to stand during their working day. The basic principles of good job design for standing work are as follows.

  • Change working positions frequently so that working in one position is of a reasonably short duration.
  • Avoid extreme bending, stretching and twisting.
  • Pace work appropriately.
  • Allow workers suitable rest periods to relax; exercises may also help.
  • Provide instruction, training and supervision on proper work practices and the use of rest breaks.
  • Allow workers an adjustment period when they return to work after an absence after illness so they can gradually return to a regular work pace.

Specific points to consider could, depending on the type of work, relate to the following:

  • Working tables and benches should be adjustable. If the workstation cannot be adjusted, platforms to raise the shorter worker or pedestals on top of workstations for the tall worker should be considered.
  • Organisation of the work space is another important aspect. There should be enough room to move around and to change body position.
  • Where it is possible, a seat should be provided so that the worker can do the job either sitting or standing.
  • Quality of footwear and type of flooring materials, including anti-fatigue mats, are also major factors contributing to standing comfort.

Workers should go home healthy

The HSE’s current Go Home Healthy campaign is targeting the musculoskeletal health of workers as one of its three key focuses, along with work-related lung diseases and stress.

Employers should be aware that static and fixed postures from prolonged standing can cause musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), along with a range of other health issues.

In the context of the campaign and work involving prolonged standing, an HSE source warned against the pitfalls of starting with appropriate footwear or anti-fatigue matting. Rather, employers are encouraged to:

  • first assess the overall design of the work process
  • reduce the need for fixed, static or awkward postures
  • provide appropriate workstation design features (for example height adjustable stations and appropriate seating)
  • organise the work to include rest breaks or job rotation to avoid muscle fatigue.

Certainly, thereafter, appropriate footwear and matting could also contribute to the overall risk reduction of the work.

Again, employers should rather be moving up the hierarchy of controls to think about the design of the work activity, rather than relying on training alone and the HSE has published advice for employers on how to get the right type of help in this regard.

Conclusion

An HSE source had the following to say about avoiding MSDs for staff who need to spend time working in a standing position:

“Fixed and static postures at work such as prolonged standing can affect workers’ health, making it more likely they will experience leg and lower back pain. It’s important that employers work with their employees to consider pragmatic solutions to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal problems — such as balancing sedentary and active work, rotating jobs, and providing rest breaks, appropriate workstations, and suitable equipment — to help ensure that workers can go home healthy.”

If you require advice, please contact us, Walker Health and Safety Services Limited.

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