Research on the health risks of prolonged sitting at work have been prominent in the headlines recently. Now, a new study also highlights the hazards of prolonged standing at work.
Researchers say, that almost half of workers throughout the entire world have to stand for more than three quarters of their days at work. Prolonged standing can cause fatigue, leg cramps and back ache problems which are uncomfortable and affect work performance and productivity.
Long term, this can lead t6o more serious joint issues and long term back pain, they note in a report of a study published in Human Factors, the journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society.
First author Maria Gabriela Garcia, who has been working towards her doctorate in the department of health sciences and technology at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, says:
“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.”
She also notes that the long-term muscle fatigue cause from prolonged standing hasn’t received much attention in research.
Younger and older workers affected
For this study, Garcia and researchers had 14 men and 12 women in 2 age groups to mimic standing work for periods of 5 hours or more at a time. This included seated breaks which lasted a maximum of 5 minutes and a 30-minute lunch break.
The researchers measured the muscle fatigue using electrical stimulation causing muscle twitching and measures the muscle twitch force (MTF). Postural stability was also measure, through asking the volunteers to assess their 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.
These symptoms of long-term fatigue lasted a minimum of 30-minutes following a seated recovery period. Younger participants ages 18-30 were just as likely to show signs of long-term fatigue as older workers ages 15 and over.
‘Fatigue may be present but not perceived’
The researchers found a difference between physically measured results and the perceptions of the volunteers, who did not notice fatigue as lasting more than 30 minutes after the end of the 5-hour standing work day.
Garcia 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 to not only fatigue and lower back pain but also cause other health issues such as sore feet, swollen legs, varicose veins and stiffness in neck and shoulders.
The CCOHS also noted 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 University of Sydney, Australia found performing manual tasks involving awkward postures increase the chance to low back pain by as much as 8 times. In the journal Arthritis Care & Research, the team identifies triggers to modify to prevent acute episodes of low back pain.
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