With 70% of sedentary behaviour taking place at work, the Public Health England and Active Working CIC have published a Consensus Expert Statement providing guidance for employers and staff working in office environments to combat the potential ills of long periods of seated office work. In the past 5 years, an accelerated amount of evidence has been published on the links between sedentary living, including time at work, and the leading causes of morbidity and mortality (cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers).
Environments that support wellbeing and optimise active working solutions can be highly desirable places and produce the following results:
- Improved Well-being to employees
- Productivity benefits
- Increased Engagement
- Absenteeism reductions
- Cost savings
Costs of Prolonged Sitting to the Employer
Research has found that sitting for prolonged periods (longer than 30 minutes at a time) and excessively (more than 4 hours per day in the office) has a contributory effect to a variety of human factor costs which directly hits the bottom line of English business today:
- Cost of Absenteeism
- The average firm of 250 employees loses £4,800 per week due to sickness absence (Office for National Statistics).
- A Confederation of British Industry (CBI) survey, estimates employee absences incur a £15bn cost to the economy p.a.
- 8.2 million Work days are lost due to mental health and stress related problems. 270,000 employees take time off work for stress related disorders.
- The TUC estimates that British businesses lose 4.9m days to employee absenteeism through work related back pain at a cost £5bn p.a.
- Absenteeism in the workplace can fall by as much as 42% through wellness programs.
- Cost of Presenteeism
- Reduced productivity when employees come to work disengaged or perform at lower levels as a result of ill health.
- The Centre for Mental Health calculated that presenteeism from mental ill health costs the UK economy £15.1 billion p.a
- Increased Productivity, Engagement and Wellbeing
- Users of Sit- Stand workstations unanimously claim to be more alert, task-driven and positive.
- Research shows a direct link between healthy employees and improved performance.
- Meetings are kept short and efficient.
- Better posture and reduced risk of back pain.
- Higher energy levels, especially afternoons.
Most legislation covering computers is to be found in the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations (1992), and in the 1993 Implementation of European Directive (90/270/EEC) on display screen work. These regulations have been designed to help people who use computers as a significant part of their job.
- Provide furniture that can be adjusted. No two people are the same size or shape. Chairs, desks and monitors need to be adjustable so that the user can alter the height, angle of back rest etc. to reduce the risk of backache, neck ache and other aches and pains.
- Make sure computer users take regular breaks. Working at a computer for long periods can make the user very tired and can contribute to headaches, back and neck ache, Repetitive Strain Injury.
- Provide regular eyesight tests. Computers can increase the risk of eyestrain so users need to have regular sight tests to keep their eyes healthy.
- Provide information on health and safety. Most people do not know what the health and safety regulations say; an employer must provide this information for their employees.
- Assess the risks of using a particular workstation, and correct any problems. Not all computer systems meet the regulations. Some have monitors that cannot be adjusted, and some are used in hazardous areas in factories. All computer equipment has to be risk assessed and made as safe as possible for the user.
- Reduce the risks of conditions such as Repetitive Strain Injury. Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) is a term that covers a lot of complaints. Most of them are caused by a person repeating an action over and over again. This is true for people who work on a single machine in a factory for a long time. It is also true for computer users. RSI generally affects the hands, wrists and arms, through repeated use whilst typing. RSI can cause damage to the joints and bones and in some cases the muscles.
Active Working activities include:
- Stand and take a break from your computer every 30 minutes
- Stand during phone calls
- Use the stairs
- Have standing or walking meetings
- Eat your lunch away from your desk
- Walk to your colleague’s desk instead of phoning or emailing them
- Stand at the back of the room during presentations
- Use a sit-stand workstation.
The key elements remain to highlight the potential ills of sitting for prolonged periods, and emerging benefits of changing office environments to promote standing and movement.
Employers need to evaluate the best ways to achieve this, whether through changing how and when people can take breaks from sitting, which involve standing and movement or through workstation designs and technologies that allow people to perform their work more easily either at their desk location or from other locations within the office space in a standing position.