The Standing Workstation Conundrum
In the midst of a recent (and overdue) office tidy-up, I came across a newspaper clipping dated March 2010 – ‘Beware the Chair.’ It was about this time that the initial studies on the health hazards with prolonged sitting were being published and grabbing media attention, and the standing workstation was starting gain momentum. Other similar news headlines were also popping up: ‘Sitting is Killing Us,’ ‘Sitting is the New Smoking.’ The news reports and newspapers have been telling us to get off our butts or we are likely to die.
Over the past several years we have been inundated with information about the health risks associated with prolonged sitting. But wait, what about standing? We’ve heard from the media that we should be standing and not sitting – they are telling us we’ll be healthier, we’ll feel better, we’ll lose weight. We all know the percentage of workers that stand for a living has shrunk dramatically with the evolution of the computer, and since the majority of us get paid to sit for a living, we are focussed on sitting diseases.
In the years since the initial sitting research regarding health issues, the pendulum has swung and people are taking a stand, literally. And when they do, they seem to be standing for long periods of time. When I attend workplaces to conduct ergonomic assessments I often see employees creative tactics in workplaces to create a standing space – boxes stacked on top of boxes – to varying heights supporting keyboards, mice and monitors on workstations. Quite often the heights are all wrong… and not the easiest of workstations to assemble and disassemble for alternating postures between sitting and standing, so many find it easier just to stand all day. Most of the standing warriors I’ve spoken with believe that if standing for short periods is good, that standing for longer periods must be even better for us…
Seems as though the media storm has worked to get us off our chairs, but have we jumped too far the other way without fully considering possible long term consequences from standing?
What are the possible consequences? Prolonged standing exposes the body to increased cardiovascular problems, may result in pain in the lower back, legs and feet, fatigue, discomfort and possible negative health outcomes for pregnancies. As a general rule, the health risks increase with an increase in the duration of continuous standing.
Is there a time limit for safe standing duration for a healthy individual? This is a common question I frequently get asked from individuals and employers. My recommendation for the best strategy is to follow the guidelines of the Prolonged Standing Strain Index (PSSI). The index classifies standing exposure into one of three Risk Zones:
• The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest health risk): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour periods AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout their shift.
• The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate health risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.
• The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest health risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.
If you are a standing worker take time to review the Prolonged Standing Strain Index guidelines above. This standing strategy will help you and your colleagues to manage the risks associated with prolonged standing and stay healthy.
If you must stand for prolonged periods of time, the equipment below can be useful:
1. Anti-Fatigue Mats
◦ Prolonged standing on hard floors can be very uncomfortable as it places increased strain on the muscles of the lower back and legs. Standing on anti-fatigue mats may improve comfort of the lower back/lower extremities because standing on the cushioned surface encourages the muscles of the legs to work and pump blood through the circulatory system, which prevents pooling of blood in the lower limbs.
◦ The edges of the mat should be beveled and it should be secure on the floor to reduce any trip hazards.
2. Perch/Sit-Stand Stools
◦ A perch or sit-stand stool can be used to take some of the weight off the legs, incorporating a slight break from full standing postures.
◦ A piercing or sit-stand stool is typically positioned higher than a regular chair, having only a slight flexion at the hips, versus 90 degrees of hip flexion to limit the weight being placed on them.
◦ The stool would typically have glides versus castors so that it won’t roll away when changing postures.
◦ To be successful, the stool should be height adjustable and the seat pan should be angled towards the front edge to promote perching (instead of sitting).
The bottom line about standing? If you are going to be standing at work and you want to stay healthy, you need to alternate your standing with sitting on a regular basis.
Halim, I. & Omar, A. (2012). Development of Prolonged Standing Strain Index to Quantify Risk Levels of Standing Jobs. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics. 18(1): 85–96._