Sitting down on the job harming health: report

woman sitting at desk

Half of workers report that they are sitting often or for all of the time they are at work, prompting Safe Work Australia to urge Australians to reduce their time sitting at work.

Truck driving and crane operating, as well as office-based occupations, are contributing to sedentary workplace behaviour and growing a range of health risks, a new Curtin University and Safe Work Australia report has found.

Safe Work Australia commissioned a team of experts led by Professor Leon Straker, Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, to examine the most recent evidence from Australia and overseas on sedentary work, its likely consequences and potential control options.

Prof Straker says a high proportion of workers are exposed to prolonged sitting at work and evidence showed a number of adverse health effects associated with sedentary work.

“Overall exposure to sedentary behaviour, especially prolonged, unbroken sitting time, is associated with a range of poor health outcomes including musculoskeletal problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature death,” Prof Straker says.

“The harm associated with prolonged occupational sitting is likely due to insufficient dynamic muscle activity, insufficient energy expenditure, insufficient movement, lack of postural variety, and diminished gravitational resistance.”

One half of workers across a number of industries and occupations report sitting often or for all of the time they are at work.

Previous research has demonstrated regularly sitting for longer than 30 minutes without changing posture and moving—or sitting for the majority of the day—is likely to be detrimental to health.

And while the public perception may be that office workers are most at risk, traditionally ‘blue collared’ occupations such as forestry, mining and farming, are also at high risk.

“Previously, these primary industry roles required workers to be very physically active, however as technology has progressed, workers have been able to do the same roles from a sedentary position.” Prof Straker says.

Safe Work Australia CEO Michelle Baxter has called on employers and workers to aim to reduce their time sitting at work.

“Early evidence suggests occupational interventions targeting sitting reduction can substantially reduce occupational sitting, at least in office workplaces.”

These interventions include using substitution and breaks to minimise the total time spent sitting.

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