Sit-Stand Workstation Ergonomics
Key Research Findings on Sit-Stand Workstations
By Dona Leonard OT MS/Industrial Health Director
SITTING AT WORK
When you imagine yourself at work (or at play), you may recognize that you are typically engaged in some combination of sitting, standing, and walking (skydiving, swimming and bungee jumping aside.) Given the presence of computer use in many job tasks, and the trend toward a paperless world, are in many cases increasing how much we sit during the day. Since walking to a printer or fax machine is becoming a thing of the past, we are forced to look for ways to stand up and move more throughout the day at work.
Whether sitting or standing – ‘static’ postures reduce blood flow and can result in both physical and mental fatigue. The best rule of thumb is to change your position regularly: ‘The best position is the NEXT position.’
However, the risks associated with too much sitting have received more attention in the media lately. We know that the more we sit, the less physically active we are, and the greater the risk of cardio-metabolic disease, some forms of cancer, and decreased strength and fitness for the activities we enjoy doing outside of work (1). Importantly, as incidences of depression and other mental illnesses continue to rise, increased physical activity – even low-impact activities such as brisk walking – have been shown long-term to significantly improve mood and reduce symptoms.
Ergonomic interventions designed to reduce prolonged sitting at work can reduce fatigue and discomfort, while increasing productivity. Of equal (if not more) importance, moving more at work can help increase a sense of employee well-being, satisfaction and engagement, or ‘presenteeism.’
Two issues in recent research can help us gain some perspective on the relative risks of sitting at work, and what to do if we are sitting too much.
- While too much sitting is not good for our health, is there a difference between ‘occupational-’ and ‘leisure-’ type sitting?
- What interventions are recommended for encouraging us to change our position regularly throughout the day?
DIFFERENT TYPES OF SITTING
Leisure Sitting v. Occupational Sitting
It is important to understand that much of the research in the negative health effects of sitting relate to ‘leisure’ sitting (2). According to a 2013 meta-analysis, there are fewer or questionable risks associated with ‘occupational’ sitting (3) in comparison to ‘leisure’ sitting. Total sitting time (‘leisure’ + ‘occupational’) may therefore be the most important factor to consider.
The growth of popularity in sit-stand workstations, whether manual or electric, reflects our efforts to move more by changing our position throughout the day.
Support for change is key when introducing a sit-stand workstation. For example, comparing ‘minimally-trained’ to ‘trained’ users whose training included periods of ‘mandatory’ standing, standing time increased significantly for the ‘trained’ users after the training period, and reports of musculoskeletal and visual discomfort were reduced, with no productivity loss demonstrated (4). Also, workers provided sit-stand workstations reported positive experiences, and overall utilization benefits from ‘supportive social and environmental conditions are required to support participant engagement’ (5).
TIPS ON BETTER POSITIONING FOR SITTING AND STANDING
Follow the link below to a basic self-screen that can be used by you and your employees to improve overall comfort, both in sitting and standing positions.
(1) CDC. The Benefits of Physical Activity. 2015; http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health
(2) Screen-based entertainment time, all-cause mortality, and cardiovascular events: population-based study with ongoing mortality and hospital events follow-up. J Am College Cardiology. 2011 Jan 18; 57(3):292-9.
(3) Chau et al., 2013. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0080000
(4) Office Ergonomics Training and a Sit-Stand Workstation. Robertson, et al., 2013, Applied Ergonomics, 44, 73-85.
(5) Hadgraft et al. 2017. Reducing occupational sitting: Workers’ perspectives on participation in a multi-component intervention. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 2017; 14:73