Is Standing All day More Damaging Than Sitting All Day?

Based on our reader feedback we have again focussed on the standing workstation for this edition of #WellnessWednesday. We are thoroughly invested in strategies that can help you achieve your organization’s or personal ergonomic goals. Whether you want to reduce injuries/discomfort or improve your wellness program, we strive to be your first source for information.

Our blog is growing daily. If there is ever a topic that you’d like to learn more about, then just send us a note. Looking for more information? Check out these previous blogposts about standing workstations:

Why This Is Important.

Today it seems that we are inundated with information only about the risks associated with prolonged sitting. I’m sure that you have heard of the ‘sitting is worse than smoking’ campaign by now! I frequently see news reports and magazine articles focusing on the perils of sitting. As a result of this media support, I believe that the ‘risk prevention pendulum’ is shifting far too much in the other direction. To reduce the risks associated with prolonged sitting I now see that there is a trend towards prolonged standing in workstations. I note this trend both through the media (children’s classrooms being outfitted with standing desks) and through ergonomic assessments (clients standing all day). It was not always this way though. In the past few years I have noticed this rapid shift towards prolonged standing workstations. Specifically, I’m concerned that we are jumping too quickly onto the ‘standing workstation bandwagon’ without fully considering its long-term consequences. Note: If prolonged sitting is a concern for you, here are some strategies that you can implement today to reduce the ergonomic risk.  

A common misconception I see is that standing all day is an optimal and healthy behaviour.

All too often I assess office staff who reportedly stand all day. Although there are benefits to periodically switching between standing and sitting throughout the workday, prolonged standing exposes the body to increased ergonomic risk. It is associated with cardiovascular problems, musculoskeletal pain in the lower back, legs and feet, fatigue, discomfort and pregnancy-related negative health outcomes. Generally the ergonomic risk increases as the duration of continuous standing increases. 

So, is there a ‘cut-off’ for a safe standing duration? This is a very common question that I get asked so I decided to share my solution here. I think the best strategy on the market today for recommending optimal standing durations is with the Prolonged Standing Strain Index. It classifies exposure into one of three zones:

  • The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout their shift.
  • The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.
  • The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout their shift.

 

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Click to Download the Poster!

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Actionable Points That You Can Implement Today.

There are 2 overall strategies that can be implemented today to take the steps to reduce the risk associated with prolonged standing.

Optimize Personal Habits.

  • Review the three guidelines above. This is such an incredible guideline, I’ve made it into a downloadable Poster for you. This standing strategy will help you to manage the risks associated with prolonged standing and can also encourage your colleagues to monitor their standing duration as well!
  • Additionally, limiting prolonged standing to just 2 hours at a time, with 5 minutes of seated rest at every hour has been shown to be incredibly useful at reducing ergonomic risk associated with prolonged standing. There are some obvious benefits from intermittent standing strategies like this one, such as a reduction on lower back discomfort.

Provide Comfort Items. 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 difficult and uncomfortable. Using anti-fatigue mats may improve symptoms in the lower back/lower extremities because it is softer to stand on.
    • The edges should be beveled and it should be somewhat secure on the floor to reduce any trip hazards.
    • Here is an example of a useful anti-fatigue mat.
  2. Perch/Sit-Stand Stools
    • A perch or sit-stand stool can be used as a method to incorporate a slight break while the person is still standing.
    • Normally these stools are positioned much higher than a regular chair to limit the likelihood of the person placing their full weight on them. There is very little structure to these stools when compared to a regular office chair.
    • The stool should be height adjustable and the seat pan should be angled downwards to promote perching (instead of sitting).
    • Here is an example of a useful perch stool.
  3. Foot rails
    • By resting one foot on a foot rail during prolonged standing, it can take some of the the load/strain off the back and lower extremities.
    • The height should be approximately 15 cm (6”) from the ground and it should be long enough to rest either foot on it.
    • Here is an example of a useful footrail.

Sources

Garcia, M., Läubli, T. & Martin, B. (2015). Long-Term Muscle Fatigue After Standing Work. Human Factors. 57(7), 1162-1173.

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.

Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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