Sitting cited as work hazard
Australian employers could be breaching workplace health and safety laws by requiring "excessive sitting" by workers, according to Perth-led research in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Australian employers could be breaching workplace health and safety laws by requiring "excessive sitting" by workers, according to Perth-led research in the Medical Journal of Australia.

In a paper to be released today, researchers under Curtin University physiotherapy professor Leon Straker warn 75 per cent of office workdays were spent sitting, including multiple unbroken stints of at least 30 minutes.

Excessive "occupational sitting" can have serious health effects including heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes and is estimated to account for 5.9 per cent of premature deaths.

Even workers who accumulate the recommended 2.5 to 5 hours a week of physical activity can have high exposure to dangerous "sedentary time", the paper says.

The researchers say doctors should prescribe interruptions to sedentary behaviour to patients with medical conditions as they would discourage patients with spinal problems from heavy lifting at work.

The paper says simple changes, including "sit-stand work stations", could be introduced to reduce sedentary behaviour.

"Some risk-reduction strategies, such as standing meetings, are costless," the researchers found.

"While other strategies have a cost, the cost does not seem disproportionate given the potential for significant harm."

The Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act requires employers to provide a "safe system of work".

The researchers said work systems in contemporary offices carried a "high likelihood of excessive sitting" and the evidence of the substantial harm it carried was now well known.

National Heart Foundation WA cardiovascular health director Trevor Shilton said standing was better than sitting from a health perspective and walking was better than standing. "It's all about movement," he said.

"Our chair might be our new risk factor."

Dr Shilton said some companies had started "walking meetings" but some employers and employees would need more convincing of the need for cultural change than others.

It was unlikely employers would face legal action for overseeing excessive sitting but he noted smoke-free workplaces and sunscreen had become standard.

The West Australian

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