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Sit for Long Periods of Time at Work? Know Health & Safety Regulations?

Sitting for prolonged periods of time without physical activity is associated with significant risk of diabetes & cardiovascular disease, according to a study with the extravagant title "Standing-Based Office Work Shows Encouraging Signs of Attenuating Post-Prandial Glycemic Excursion".

In the study a group of desk bound office workers changed to a standing working position using an ergonomically adjustable desk, which improved their blood glucose levels for a relatively small additional use of energy in standing.

I was reminded of this when reading the rather stereotypical tabloid headline that “Sitting is the new smoking”. Apparently, the “average Brit” now spends 8.9 hours a day sitting down. Sitting slows down the body’s metabolism and the breaking down of fat reserves.  

Whilst the headline was wrong to compare the risks of sitting with the grave risks of smoking, amongst which is the single largest cause of lung cancer in the world, the issue does merit attention. As we become a society which either works with computers and/or spends our leisure time staring at their screens, the risks from excessive sitting are real.

In the workplace, the solution is partially found in the Workplace Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations 1992 which impose a responsibility on employers to ensure that any seat is suitable for the person who is working at the work station, and for the work being carried out at the work station. This includes any special needs of an individual worker, and workers with disabilities. Static and awkward posture at a work station caused by inadequate or unsuitable seating can lead to chronic injury.

In terms of the duration of sitting, then the answer is for employers to consider how best to ergonomically design the work station to reduce the risk and/or to encourage some physical activity, albeit for a short period of time, during the day.

At home, the solution is much simpler – stop being a couch potato and take some exercise!

By Simon Allen, a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Sheffield.

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