3 Ways for EHS to address sitting disease
The research is in – and it says prolonged periods of sitting on a daily basis are bad for you. While health and safety leaders have long been aware of the musculoskeletal impacts of a static, sedentary work position, more recent studies have focused on the correlation between sitting and increased mortality/disease.
While the research varies based on how “prolonged sitting” is measured and defined (>6-8 hours per day, generally), or what specific sedentary activity was measured (working, watching TV, etc.), the conclusions have been consistent: prolonged sitting is positively correlated with increased mortality – by 18-94%, depending on the parameters of the study. To make matters worse, hitting the gym at the end of the day won’t eliminate this increased rate of disease and death.
As coverage of this topic hit the mainstream media, corporations, as well as their employees, have become increasingly concerned with the health implications of desk jobs. So what can you do to address this topic in your organization? Here are three pieces of office ergonomics technology that the health and safety professionals can leverage to help counteract so-called “sitting disease” in the workplace:
1. Sit-Stand Desks
These mechanically-enabled desks are all the rage. They provide an easy solution to get employees out of their chair, while avoiding a decrease in productivity. So why isn’t every employer filling their workplaces with sit-stand desks? For one thing, they range from $300-$1500 per desk, a substantial equipment investment for any mid- to large-sized company. As such, most organizations that utilize these desks create selective policies that clearly define which employees are eligible for a sit-stand.
A crucial, yet often overlooked part of successfully decreasing employee sedentary time with sit-stand desks is educating employees about how to use their new equipment. Research by Liberty Mutual has indicated that a one-time dump of information about using the adjustable desk is significantly less effective than a slow, steady drip of information – something that can be achieved perhaps through email or a desktop application.
In addition to educating employees about how to use their desks, it’s important that training sessions address the importance of incorporating some sitting into the day. As health and safety professionals already know, numerous risks can also accompany prolonged standing, such as cardiovascular disorders, varicose veins, and foot and joint issues. The idea is not for employees to simply stand, but for employees to incorporate more movement into their day – and getting them out of their chairs and onto their feet for part of the day is a great first step.
2. Wearable Technology
Wearables are a relatively new concept that involve incorporating electronic technology into clothing or accessories. In the case of office ergonomics, fitness band devices, such as Fitbit or Jawbone, can be worn to measure the user’s activity – number of steps, calories burned, sleep, heart rate, etc. – and then use the data collected to feed a smartphone app, with the hopes that the visualization of the daily data will help drive changes in the user’s behavior. The design of these types of devices is grounded in a field of study known as captology, which examines the power that computers have in persuading changes in human behavior.
Designed for consumers, this greatest benefit of this type of device is its high fun-factor, and ability to truly engage employees. This type of technology also straddles the dividing line between employee benefits/wellness and health/safety. It presents an opportunity for EHS managers to collaborate with HR, and share resources in a way that positively impacts the goals of both functions.
3. Movement-Positive Ergonomics Software
Office ergonomics software that your health and safety team may already have in place can also help increase employee movement. Many of the functions within ergonomics software are built on the captology model of influencing behavior, like the wearable tech mentioned previously, but are designed for use specifically in the workplace.
Effective office ergonomics software actively engages employees in health- and safety-based behavior modification through a desktop application, with a range of capabilities that can help encourage movement throughout the workday. For instance, a break timer can be effective in encouraging employees (gently or firmly!) to take periodic breaks – and should adapt to the employee’s habits to ensure minimal impact on productivity. In fact, research has shown that it helps increase productivity.
In addition, periodic notifications can serve as behavior-based safety influencers that help remind employees of the importance of taking breaks, getting up, moving around, and stretching. Office ergonomics software can also help support the implementation of sit-stand desks by providing ongoing employee education and support, as well as providing scheduled reminders for employees to switch between sitting and standing.
Last, but definitely not least, well-designed office ergonomics software will enable your team to measure the success of efforts to encourage movement. Although there is no personal tracking device, as there would be with wearable technology, the solution should be able to track computer usage and break schedules of individual employees – indicators of the rates of sedentary behavior – and aggregate this information to elucidate trends across the organization.
As scientists continue to uncover the long-term health impacts of prolonged sitting, health and safety professionals can best serve their organizations by encouraging the incorporation of movement into desk-based employees’ daily routines. Consider these three recommendations as you address sitting disease in your office environments:
- Encourage movement! Even though OSHA isn’t yet cracking down on this issue, employees and upper management will be wondering what, if anything, is being done to address it. Get ahead of the curve and make a plan to address the hazards of prolonged sitting.
- Create a defined sit-stand desk policy. Employees will want one, especially if they see others using them. If cost is a concern, avoid the headache in advance by being prepared to draw a firm line in the sand on who is eligible.
- Measure your success. It’s of the utmost importance to measure the impact of every single health and safety effort. Especially as new programs are undertaken, new equipment is implemented, and your team is trying to address new issues, understanding what is working and what isn’t allows your team to drive a true culture of safety.