How Ergonomics Can Help Mitigate the Risks of an Increasingly Sedentary Workforce

As employers strive to contain costs, boost employee productivity, and prevent workplace injuries, they are facing an increasingly common obstacle: workers with low physical fitness levels and sedentary lifestyles, both at home and at the office. A physically inactive lifestyle carries a wide variety of health risks that can make employees less productive and increase the likelihood that they will experience work-related discomfort or injuries, including musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)—the primary driver of medical costs. By incorporating proper ergonomics principles into their workplaces, employers may mitigate some of the risks of a sedentary workforce and improve their organizations’ wellness cultures. 

Declining physical fitness levels among employees

The human body is built to be active. But as people have increasingly come to rely on cars, technology, and other conveniences over the past several decades, overall levels of physical activity have plummeted. Today, many employees spend their work days sitting at a desk for eight or more hours, and their leisure time watching TV, playing video games, or using their smartphones. As a result of this growing prevalence of sedentary lifestyles, obesity rates have nearly doubled, and many people are facing a heightened risk of serious health conditions, including heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and certain cancers. In fact, the World Health Organization has identified “sitting disease”—which refers to the metabolic symptoms and other negative effects of excessive sitting—as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. 

Low levels of physical activity may also increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) resulting from soft tissue stressors. For employers, a greater incidence of MSDs among the workforce translates to a variety of negative effects on the organization’s bottom line. For example, MSDs and other health conditions may lead to higher healthcare and workers’ compensation costs, decreased productivity, greater employee discomfort, and increased absenteeism. Therefore, as a large percentage of the workforce continues to lead sedentary lifestyles both in and out of the office, employers have a strong and direct financial interest in finding ways to promote physical activity and overall workplace wellness. 

Preventing injuries with workplace ergonomics

For employees whose jobs require them to spend long periods of time on a computer, incorporating proper ergonomics principles into the work day can reduce the risk of MSDs and other health conditions. For example, standing up for approximately 10 minutes for every 30 minutes of sitting can help boost the metabolism, alleviate back pain, improve mood and energy levels, and lower blood sugar. Therefore, sit-stand workstations have surged in popularity in recent years as a way to encourage sedentary employees to spend more time on their feet. Additionally, adopting better posture when seated and positioning the computer, keyboard, and mouse in accordance with ergonomic principles can lower the risk of MSDs. 

While sit-stand workstations may help to reduce excessive sitting, they are not necessarily a “one-size-fits-all” solution for every employee and workplace. The best way to improve workplace safety through ergonomics is to work with an experienced ergonomics consultant to evaluate your office and organizational wellness culture. The board-certified ergonomics professionals at Performance Ergonomics can provide a comprehensive evaluation of your workplace, including office workstation evaluations. We will identify potential risk factors in light of each employee’s specific job duties and create an action plan, including product recommendations, for improving ergonomics in your workplace. 

Contact us today to learn more about how we can assist your organization in preventing workplace injuries, boosting productivity, and ultimately improving your bottom line!

(Sources: https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/pdf/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031914-122714, https://www.juststand.org/the-facts/, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/7-benefits-of-a-standing-desk#section3). 

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