Much ink has been spilled over the past few years concerning this idea of the ‘sitting disease’. With dire headlines such as “Sitting is the New Smoking” and “Your Chair is Killing You”, we’ve been told that sitting has apparently reached epidemic proportions. And in this occupational theatre your desk chair, your lowly but altogether malfeasant task chair, has been positioned as evil villain. And your saviour? Why, a sit/stand desk of course!
As the saying goes, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Scepticism is definitely warranted. So let’s spend some time unpacking fact from fiction.
First, the term sitting disease originates from a developing field of research called inactivity physiology. This is a credible and important area of research that is increasingly demonstrating that the effects of sedentary living exist independent from daily exercise. Simply put, science is telling us that periods of intense exercise are not enough to counteract the effects of prolonged inactivity throughout the ay. Even if you work out 30 minutes every day, if you sit all day long and throughout the evening your exercise habits are not enough to ward off the ill health effects associated with an overall lack of movement.
Unfortunately, this very important scientific finding – that we must get up and move regularly throughout the day to be healthy – has been excessively reduced into this idea that sitting itself is the culprit. And therefore standing, the opposite of sitting, must surely be the solution.
This is total fiction. Standing is NOT the opposite of sitting. Standing still, while at a computer terminal for instance, is in fact another sedentary posture. And what’s worse, ergonomically speaking, standing still is a more concerning ergonomic risk factor than is sitting still.
Prolonged standing is highly correlated with adverse health outcomes. For instance, standing occupations have an increased risk of varicose veins, leg cramps, leg swelling and cardiovascular disease. Standing is not quite the panacea many would suggest.
Certified ergonomists and injury prevention experts at Briotix support the trend towards more adjustable furniture solutions in the workplace. They believe employees and employers alike benefit from the improved fit and comfort adjustable solutions afford.
Companies realise the benefit of this investment through reductions in lost productivity, reduced worker’s compensation claims and reduced healthcare costs.
However, those same experts are strongly opposed to the idea that standing solutions satisfy the concerns raised by inactivity physiology or that sitting in your task chair is putting you at increased risk. Nevertheless, thanks to strategic marketing by furniture manufacturers coupled with a news cycle that emphasises dire leads, three years on we are continuing to see a durable and growing demand for sit/stand workstations across the globe. In fact, we are seeing the demand increasingly reshaping real estate portfolio decisions, new building designs and wellness programme investment.
At this point it is safe to say that ignoring the trend will not hold off the rising tide of expectation that height adjustable solutions should be made available to employees. So what is a company to do? How do you handle employee demand for such expensive solutions?
The short answer is you need a proactive, costoptimised, strategy. Briotix has developed an enterprise sit/stand kit, designed to address the root causes and psychosocial factors that drive this demand most strongly. Its enterprise approach consists of three elements:
Employees are going to seek approval for sit/stand workstations, this is inevitable.
Waiting until you have multiple requests in hand is the wrong time to determine your corporate policy. Briotix recommends proactively developing and communicating
a corporate ergonomic equipment policy just as you would a disability accommodation policy today. This policy should emphasise that we, your employer, support employee
occupational health and wellness through the provision of ergonomic equipment and encourage all employees to seek movement breaks throughout the day. It should also address how requests for specific equipment (sit/stand desk, special chair, etc.) will be processed.
Eligibility for special ergonomic equipment including sit/stand desks must be clearly determined according to defined criteria.For instance, will you make a sit/stand desk available to your employees who work remotely full-time or part-time? Will it be available only upon presentation of a physician’s note? Is an explicit medical prescription required or is a general noteabout discomfort sufficient? Will you require lower-cost remedies to be attempted first?
What if an employee is granted a desk and then elects to not use it? How will that be handled? All of these considerations must be determined and documented in a fair, rational way to ensure cost optimisation and reduction in liability.
Prolonged occupational standing is risky. Specific use guidance including recommended limitations on duration and frequency of standing should be provided. Hazard warnings.
Finally, Briotix recommends that this sort of structured approach should be concurrently coupled with progressive movement campaigns across the business. These should be focused on socialising and normalising the idea that MOVEMENT is the opposite of sitting.
This movement-oriented emphasis provides a rational and best practice response to sit/stand demand. Proactively communicating that we as an organisation encourage and support every employee in the choice to take a walking or standing rest break of a few minutes each hour is, in our view, the only panacea at work