The average full-time employee spends almost 40 hours per week at their workplace—6.3 hours of which is spent sitting, especially in jobs where workers are required to sit behind a desk all day. Research is showing that sitting for extended periods while at work, or ‘occupational sitting time’ is an emerging risk factor for chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension—even in physically active adults. This may be attributed to the fact that occupational sitting time is characterized by high levels of sedentary behaviour. Sedentary behaviour is the term used to describe activity, which requires low energy expenditure and little physical effort. In workplace settings, sedentary behaviour is most often seen in the form of desk work, for example, using a computer. In the United States an estimated 88 million people exhibit sedentary behaviour at work on a daily basis. The use of sit-stand workstations in office-based workplace settings is one potential approach to reducing occupational sitting time.

What Is a Sit-Stand Workstation?

Sit-stand workstations are ergonomically designed to help employees find a balance between sitting and standing while performing their job tasks. Therefore, the workstation can be adjusted for sitting and moved for standing.

What Types of Sit-Stand Workstations Are Presently Available?

The types of sit-stand workstations presently available: electric desks and manual crank desks.

  • Electric desks are:
  • Fast and easy to adjust
  • More expensive
  • Equipped with memory settings, which allows the user to set a preferred seat and standing height—one touch adjustment between the two heights
  • Ideal for employees to alternate between sitting and standing several times throughout the day
  • Manual crank desks:
  • Manually adjust via the use of a hand crank
  • Provide employees with the option to sit or stand at their workstation, however it requires more time and effort to change the height

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What Makes a Good Sit-Stand Workstation?

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), a well-designed sit-stand workstation should have the following five characteristics:

  • Adjustable height to accommodate all users
  • Easy to adjust components
  • A height adjustable desk top with a height adjustable keyboard tray suited for both sitting and standing users
  • A monitor platform or arm that allows the top of the monitor to be set at eye level with the user
  • A keyboard and mouse at the same height that can be set at or slightly below the elbow level of the user

What Are the Advantages of Using a Sit-Stand Workstation?

  • Burns more calories compared to sitting
  • Reduces strain on the lower back from prolonged sitting
  • Increases muscle activity compared to sitting
  • Combats a sedentary lifestyle compared to sitting

What Are the Disadvantages of Using a Sit-Stand Workstation?

While the advantages definitely outweigh the negatives, some disadvantages to note of having sit-stand workstations include:

  • In some instances, sit-stand workstations can aggravate existing injuries or medical conditions
  • Sit-stand workstations may present a risk for new injury, for example lower back injuries and arthritis can be aggravated by increased standing
  • Decreased privacy due to standing above colleagues

What Factors Should Be Considered Before Implementing Sit-Stand Workstations at the Workplace?

Before purchasing sit-stand workstations for your workplace, consider:

  • That a sit-stand workstation is not a ‘fix all’, that is, it will not provide workers with adequate physical activity and therefore, workers should be encouraged to live a healthy lifestyle
  • The cost of the sit-stand workstation
  • The type of sit-stand workstation best suited for your workplace
  • Any workplace modifications that may be required facilitate the use of the sit-stand workstation

As an Employee, What Can I Do to Reduce My Sedentary Behaviour at Work?

There are many simple changes employees can make to ensure that they are not “sitting” on the job. These include:

  • Standing up during meetings
  • Standing and taking a break away from the computer or workstation every 20-30 minutes
  • Standing during phone calls
  • Walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of phoning or emailing
  • Using the stairs more often or in place of the elevator
  • Going for a short walk during lunch break

Suggestions for Employers

Employers have a duty to ensure that their workstations do not pose a health risk to their workers who use them. The following are a few strategies that employers can take to promote workplace wellness as it relates to reducing sedentary behaviour and mitigating the “sitting disease”:

  • Provide training for workers covering topics, such as the fundamentals of ergonomics, neutral work postures, the benefits of changing postures frequently, and how to adjust sit-stand workstations properly
  • Periodically survey workers to determine the effectiveness of sit-stand workstations
  • Host toolbox talks to raise awareness about the risks associated with prolonged sitting
  • Lead by example by showing desirable behaviours, such as correctly using your own sit-stand workstation

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

Most jobs require workers to perform their job duties and tasks in a seated position. This may be partly attributed to the rapid increase in technology and mechanization within the business industry. Unfortunately, sitting for extended periods of time can result in workers developing awkward postures, which may lead to the development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), such as lower back pain. (Read more in Risk Factors for Musculoskeletal Disorders Development). These discomforts may prove costly to employers due to the resulting negative impacts including lost of productivity, an increase in worker’s compensation claims, and staff absenteeism.

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