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There Are Hazards To Prolonged Standing At Work

Posted By Kerry Budworth on 2015-07-16 22:26

Recent Research on Standing at Work

Recently, research on the health risks of prolonged sitting at work have been prominent in the headlines. However, we read a great article recently on Medical News Today that detailed the findings of a new study on standing at work. The study from the department of health sciences and technology at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, published in Human Factors, the journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society. also highlights the hazards of prolonged standing at work. 

Nearly half of all workers worldwide have to stand for more than three quarters of their working day. Researchers warn that prolonged standing can result in fatigue, leg cramps and back ache. These are problems that not only cause discomfort but will also affect work performance and productivity. These problems if not addressed will damage your bottom line and your competiveness. Not just that, in the longer term, this type of sustained muscle fatigue can lead to more serious joint problems and back pain.

First author María Gabriela García, said:

"The work-related musculoskeletal implications that can be caused by prolonged standing are a burden not only for workers but also for companies and society."

Despite this, she notes that the long-term muscle fatigue caused by prolonged standing has not received much attention in research to now.

Younger and older workers affected

For their study, García and colleagues invited 14 men and 12 women in two age groups to simulate standing work for periods lasting 5 hours at a time. These periods included seated breaks lasting no more than 5 minutes and a 30-minute lunch break.

The researchers measured muscle fatigue with a system that uses electrical stimulation to cause muscle twitching and then measures the muscle twitch force (MTF). They also measured postural stability and asked the volunteers to assess their own level of discomfort.

The results showed that even when they had regular breaks, the volunteers experienced significant long-term fatigue following their 5-hour simulated working day. Symptoms of long-term fatigue lasted for at least 30 minutes following a seated recovery period, the authors noted.

Moreover, younger participants (age 18-30) were just as likely to show signs of long-term fatigue as older workers (age 50 and over).

'Fatigue may be present but not perceived'

The researchers also found a discrepancy between the physically measured results and the perceptions of the volunteers. Tne volunteers did not perceive fatigue as lasting more than 30 minutes after the end of the 5-hour standing work day. García says that "long-term fatigue after prolonged standing work may be present without being perceived," and concludes:

"Current work schedules for standing work may not be adequate for preventing fatigue accumulation, and this long-lasting muscle fatigue may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and back pain."

According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), working in a standing position on a regular basis can lead not only to fatigue and lower back pain but can also cause other health problems such as sore feet, swollen legs, varicose veins and stiffness in the neck and shoulders.

These are common complaints among workers whose jobs require them to stand for long periods, such as assembly-line workers, sales people, security guards and machine operators.

The CCOHS also note that:

"In a well-designed workplace, the worker has the opportunity to choose from among a variety of well-balanced working positions and to change between them frequently."

They add that even in jobs that require workers to remain standing to carry out tasks, seats "should be provided in any case" to allow them to sit occasionally.

In February 2015, Medical News Today reported another study led by the University of Sydney in Australia that found performing manual tasks involving awkward postures can increase the chance of low back pain by as much as eight times. Writing in the journal Arthritis Care & Research, the team also identifies some triggers that can be modified to prevent acute episodes of low back pain.

Changing Your Work Practices

It is obvious from the study that it is important for you to consider the impact of your work practices on your staff. It is obviously a good idea to provide seating to staff who stand at work. Even if their work is undertaken while standing. However, we are all aware that sitting for long periods of time can also lead to ill effects. 

Consider Breaks 

The key appears to be moving around and changing positions. You need to consider how this can be incorporated into your work patterns. Perhaps you may also consider increased rest periods on a regular basis. It would appear that in the long term any lost productivity through rest breaks will be more than made up for in overall productivity increases because of less fatigue and muscle injury.  

Managing the risk

Managing the risks are very similar to the process when used to identify tasks which cause muscle and skeletal problems. Identify which tasks present a serious risk of chronic injury in this case from standing for long periods.

Assess these tasks in detail to decide what factors lead to the risk, Introduce mechanisation where this is reasonably practicable,e.g. automation, bulk handling, vacuum lifters

Where mechanisation is not possible, introduce measures to prevent injury, e.g. improved ergonomic design of work stations and work areas, job rotation, training, medical surveillance, job transfer.

Consult fully with trade union safety representatives or other employee representatives and workers to ensure effective and workable solutions to problems.

If you are looking for health & safety services in Leicester or across the United Kingdom, If you have any questions in relation to Health & Safety services or requirements in general, give us a call on 01455 234 600 or contact us online.  

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Original article can be found at