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Are you killing your sedentary workers?
Posted by David Cant on October 21, 2015

Are you killing your sedentary workers?

man and lady sitting at desksOne news story that keeps coming back time and again is that of the health risks associated with sedentary jobs. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that sitting down all day is bad for our waistlines and general health, but research by scientists suggest that the long-term risks are worse than previously thought.

Sitting causes cancer?

One particularly scary headline that has been doing the rounds claims that sitting for eight hours at work is directly linked to breast and colon cancer. Looking into the details of the research however, it becomes clear that sitting for long periods merely increased the risk of developing either form of cancer (in conjunction with other contributing factors like obesity).

Time magazine went even further, claiming that an eight-hour day increased the risk of developing cancer by 66%. This horrific sounding statistic is tempered by looking at the specific incident rate – the odds of a 30-year old man developing colon cancer by the age of 60 is just under 1%.

The importance of movement

Although the study indicates that the chances of developing colon cancer are quite small, they also help to underscore the importance of getting away from the desk regularly. By spending two out of every eight hours of a working day standing (or better still, moving), workers can reduce their colon cancer risk by 0.8%.

Obviously this sounds impractical, but the same net result can be achieved by spending just 15 minutes each hour walking away from the desk. For instance, instead of calling or emailing a colleague in the next office, walking to speak to meet them and having a conversation face-to-face – talking directly may even raise the standard of communications throughout the business.

A ticking time bomb

In the same way that the symptoms of asbestos exposure take many years to develop, the full impact of a sedentary lifestyle may take decades to become apparent. The move from traditional physical labour, to an information-based economy has changed the way we work, encouraging us to do less physical exercise as part of our normal work routine.

It is important then that employers take the potential dangers seriously as part of their standard workplace risk assessments. Every employee should already be subject to a workstation health check to verify that their screen is positioned correctly and is glare-free, and their chair provides suitable support for the lower back.

But in light of mounting evidence that sitting all day is incredibly bad for health, employers should also be looking at ways to encourage employees to take more exercise. Risk assessments and operating procedures should be adapted to encourage light exercise during the working day – like suggesting employees use stairs rather than lifts, or that they stand for 10-15 minutes every hour.

Keeping employees safe and healthy is not only important for their wellbeing, but it also has a direct impact on productivity, and therefore profitability. If your workforce develops long term illnesses related to desk-based work, your business will suffer as a result.

So over to you – how does your business approach the potential problems related to an increasingly sedentary workforce?


David Cant is a Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner extraordinaire. He has a wealth of Industry experience and is the MD of Veritas Consulting. David also Blogs about Health and Safety here Health and Safety Consultants

His aim is to flavour Health and Safety with integrity, served with a side of humour You can find David on - Twitter and Google also Linkedin

This post has been filed in: Health and Safety Services, Health and Safety Support

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