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Research has suggested that excessive sitting - regardless of how much exercise you do - is linked to being overweight, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer¹. While there are steps that desk-based employees can take to become less sedentary at work, such as taking the stairs and regular breaks, it's no surprise that employers are increasingly considering the health and productivity benefits of reducing the time employees spend sitting in one position at work.
From standing-only desks to sit-stand desks, there are a few options available to help achieve the recommended two hours of standing each working day² or to help accommodate an individual's health needs.
Here are three things you might not know about these types of desks.
1. Regulations about suitable equipment apply to all types of deskThere are minimum requirements for the provision of suitable equipment and the working environment (Display Screen Equipment Regulation 3) and sit-stand desks are no exception. For example, there has to be sufficient leg room to allow postural changes and the height of the work surface should allow a comfortable position of arms and wrists. Equally, the space provided should take adequate account of the range of tasks performed, the position and use of hands and use and storage of working materials and equipment.
2. A mix of positions is bestJust as sitting down all day isn't ideal, nor is standing in the same position for a prolonged period. It's important that employees move around so a mix of good-postured sitting, good-postured standing and walking during breaks should be encouraged to ensure they vary their posture and height often. Some tasks lend themselves well to a particular position. For example, short meetings, phone calls and sorting through papers are well suited to standing up, whereas sitting down could be more conducive to tasks which require high concentration.
3. Don't underestimate the importance of appropriate footwearEmployees should be encouraged to wear shoes that enable them to move around, stand and sit comfortably without hindering their range of postures. For example, high heels position the foot at an unnatural angle and push forward the centre of gravity, making the wearer more unstable. This puts pressure on the spine and can lead to discomfort, whereas flat, cushioned shoes enable greater stability and comfort for a range of postures and tasks.
Jan, a chartered physiotherapist and chartered ergonomist and human factors specialist, is head of musculoskeletal services for AXA PPP healthcare’s specialist Health Services division. She is the immediate past chair of the executive committee of the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (ACPOHE) and in April 2015 was elected to the board of directors of the Council for Work and Health. Jan graduated with a BSc in physiotherapy from the University of Cape Town in 1993 and worked in South Africa for a short while before relocating to Michigan in the USA where she began her first work in occupational rehabilitation. She subsequently moved to the UK where she completed an MSc in health ergonomics at the Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics at the University of Surrey in 2000. Jan has extensive experience of the management of musculoskeletal health and has experience across a wide variety of employment settings, including aviation, financial services, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, retail and the NHS. Her understanding of musculoskeletal pathology and expertise in ergonomics give her a powerful insight into effectively managing work-related musculoskeletal issues.
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