Sitting down on the job can be bad for your health

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sitting down on the job can be bad for your health

Denver Business Journal – by Paula Moore

One of the newest strategies for helping office employees stay healthy at work is one of the oldest urges felt by human beings — movement.

Kathleen Lavine | Business Journal Nick McElhiney, a consultant at Ergonomic Evolution, evaluates a workstation.

Office-space experts now encourage people to get up out of their chairs frequently and move, including stretching in the work space and taking a short walk outside.

Some experts even suggest workers use a sit-stand approach in their offices and cubicles — splitting their time there between sitting and standing.

To accommodate that way of working, more employees now use work surfaces that can be raised and lowered depending on a person’s position, as well as adjustable stands and arms for moving computer monitors.

“Your body is not designed to be static,” said Nick McElhiney, mechanical engineer, ergonomics consultant and owner of Ergonomic Evolution LLC in Erie. “The old way of thinking was if a worker didn’t move, he couldn’t hurt himself. But [the truth is that] you hurt yourself by not moving. … Sit-stand is the future.”

Movement is one of the major ways to keep the blood circulating, and good circulation can prevent repetitive-motion ailments caused by prolonged computer keyboard and mouse use such as carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and tendinitis in the wrists, ergonomics experts say. Drinking plenty of water at work also improves circulation by supplying oxygen to the blood.

Repetitive-motion problems now make up roughly half of all occupational ailments, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bureau also says ergonomic disorders overall, including CTS and lower-back problems, are the fastest-growing category of Occupational Safety and Health Administration ailments, and account for an estimated $100 billion a year in medical and workers’ compensation costs.

“Sitting all the time is not good,” said Kathey Pear, owner of office-furniture seller Citron WorkSpaces LLC in Louisville. “A recent study shows standing also takes off pounds; it takes more energy to stand than sit.”

Be seated

But when office workers do sit, it’s important that they have the right kind of chair for their body and know how to use it properly. Ergonomics experts say a chair’s height should correspond to a person’s standing knee height. When seated, the individual’s feet should be flat on the floor, and there should be two or three fingers’ distance between the back of the legs and the front of the chair.

A chair that’s too large for its user may not have that distance between leg and seat, and can cut off circulation to the lower leg.

Many chair armrests adjust up and down, as well as in and out, and they should fit the person using the chair. Armrests that can’t be adjusted should be removed, experts say.

Chairs whose seats tilt down in front — so-called “waterfall” chairs — can help reduce pressure behind the knees, and help support the lower back. “Forward-tilting chairs provide forward hip roll and natural lumbar support,” said McElhiney, who formerly designed robotics.

The foot of the issue

Another circulation enhancer is a footrest, used while sitting, with rounded nubs on the surface to keep blood flowing in the feet.

“You can rub your feet on the nubs for circulation, and stimulation of the feet is also good for the nerves that run along the spine up to the back of the neck,” said Steve Balog, Chicago-based national sales manager at Caddo Solutions. Based in Denver, Caddo is a Native American-owned provider of office products from computer supplies to furniture.

Use of multiple flat-screen computer monitors is another new trend among office workers. Instead of having several files open on one monitor, having a few files open on two or three monitors at the same time allows users to take less time navigating the files, according to ergonomics experts. “You can improve productivity 30 percent,” McElhiney added.

More and more, office-space design and equipment have to do with adaptability — whether supporting employees’ need to move around in their work space or use their computers more efficiently. Work spaces that better fit the people using them help them be more productive.

“You’ve got to have ease of adjustment, making ergonomics work for you,” Balog said. “There’s no one-size-fits-all.”

Work space tips

Here are some of the latest suggestions from workplace experts about how to make your office work area healthier, safer and more efficient:

• Move: Don’t sit in your chair all day; split your time between sitting and standing. Get up and move around regularly to keep the blood circulating and to avoid repetitive-motion problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis.

• Drink plenty of water: Water oxygenates the blood, which improves circulation, and flushes toxins that build up in the body while sitting.

• Get a good chair: When you sit, have a good chair and know how to adjust it to fit your body. A really good office chair costs around $400.

• Footrest:  Using a footrest while sitting can help improve posture and prevent back problems. Footrests can range from around $15 to $60 — and be heated to keep feet warm in winter.

• Reachability:  Make sure items in your work area — phone, stapler, pens, etc. — are easy to reach, so you don’t strain muscles getting them.

• Multiple computer monitors:  Having two, or even more, flat-screen monitors makes navigating open computer files easier. Have a few files open on each screen, rather than several files open on just one screen.

• Cord/cable management:  Organizing the “spaghetti” of cords and cables in your work area, including those for computer, mouse, phone, etc., with clips, ties and wraps can prevent worker injury and equipment damage. Cord protectors, for example, cover and protect cords — and if on the floor, can prevent people from tripping over cords.

Sources: Caddo Solutions, Ergonomic Evolution LLC,

Contact Ergonomic Evolution for Ergonomic Workstation Evaluations, Ergonomic Equipment with Training, Business Worksite Consulting, Group Training / Education Seminars and more! l  303.931.3022

© This article has been reproduced with the permission of American City Business Journals Inc. All rights reserved.

  1. October 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    LCD monitors are the de factor standard these days because they do not consume too much electricity;,;

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