Sit less, move more
Strategies to reduce sedentary behaviour
Spending too much of your day sitting at work, sitting whilst commuting and generally engaging in a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of developing a range of health issues.
It is not necessary to do vigorous exercise to reduce the health risks associated with prolonged sitting; just punctuating prolonged periods of sitting with walking around is sufficient. People who break up their sedentary time throughout the day, regardless of their total sedentary time, have a better health profile. It’s all relative to moving the muscles.
It doesn't really matter what activity you do once you're up – the key to better health lies in getting up frequently. Your best posture is your next posture
- Introduce height adjustable workstations and allow staff to conduct some aspects of their work standing at this workstation. If possible set up a shared computer at this work point.
- Vary work tasks throughout the day as much as possible to enable a change in posture. Print documents in small batches, stand to read or speak on the phone
- Promote and encourage a standing-friendly culture e.g. encourage staff to stand during meetings or have a regular ‘standing’ agenda meeting item
- In the event you are required to sit for long periods, do some calf raises and stretches
- Use ‘imails’ – walk over and talk – instead of emails to colleagues
- Use a bathroom or drink fountain that is further away
- Use the stairs instead of the lift
- Eat lunch away from the workstation -walk around campus
- Organise walking groups at lunch time
- Stand on public transport, walk from the train station
The University Services Health & Safety team have created the Office Ergonomics - Stretching and Moving video to assist staff. It shows stretching exercises help to relax muscles that have been working dynamically and move thoses which have been held in a fixed position. Stretching is helpful in maintaining good, neutral posture as it helps release overly tight muscles that can pull you out of postural alighment.
The Federal Government has released a sedentary work practices toolkit to help employers and employees understand and address the health hazards associated with prolonged sitting.
Vic Health has also released a useful publication, reducing prolonged sitting.
Sit stand workstation
A number of alternative ‘workstations’ are currently commercially available. These include variations of ‘sit stand’ workstations, electric adjustable desks. The primary benefit of a sit/stand workstation is the opportunity for postural variation and movement
A review of the current commercially available ‘sit stand’ workstations and dynamic sitting options has been undertaken by the Health & Safety team. The primary purpose of this review is to provide users with guidance and information in the event they may consider purchasing an alternative workstation for the work or home environment.
Safety Bulletin: Sit/stand desktop units was published in August 2017.
Electric Height Adjustable Workstation
Image Description Usability and Application
Freestanding timber/timber laminated desks with electric height adjustability.
Cost: $800- $1200
- Supplied fully assembled to site location
- Allows all the desk top peripherals, accessories, phones, documents, files etc. to come with the user when rising to standing
- The entire desk is useable, lends itself well to being used as a hot desk
- Obviates the need for a footstool when seated. It is preferable to support the feet on the floor
- A range of designs/dimensions or customized designs and finishes are available to suit the nature of work and the environment however the following minimum dimensions should be observed:
- Length -depends on work tasks- generally between 1200mm- 2100mm
- Depth -minimum 800mm to allow optimum monitor placement
- Thickness 25-mm- 33mm
- Height range to include range of 650mm-1200mm
- Matte, non- reflective finish
- Touch button adjustment
- All users requiring a standing option. Will accommodate the greatest range of users regardless of body dimensions or injury symptoms /conditions
- Best option for users with back injuries/ significant musculoskeletal disorders
Image Description Usability and Application
A sturdy manually height adjustable metal work platform which clamps to the rear of the desk with a central tower along which the platform tracks. Option for single or dual monitors.
Large model- work platform dimensions: 710mm wide x 430mm deep x 10mm thick –suitable for desks 700-800mm deep
Cost: Approximately $900
- Requires assembly and tape measure(not-supplied). Instructions supplied.
- Suitable for rectilinear desk designs between 600mm and 800mm deep-provided desk not fixed to wall or partition. Not suitable for deep corner workstations
- Clamps to rear of desk
- Platform dimensions restrict mouse navigation space. A non- numeric keyboard is recommended to create more space for mouse and enable a comfortable shoulder posture
- Platform and monitor adjust independently which eliminates need for a separate monitor riser
- Height adjustment is achieved by constant force technology (minimum force). Handle points are located at the mid- point of each side of the platform. Adjusts from sitting to standing height in 2-3 seconds
- Work platform rises to a height of 1180mm on a ‘standard’ desk height of 720mm (suitable for almost all users including taller users)
- Platform thickness adds15mm height to desk height when sitting which is generally tolerated without further adjustments
- No horizontal adjustment possible between monitor and keyboard platform so user may need to stand away from unit to achieve comfortable focal distance which will require longer reaching forwards to the keyboard
- Dual monitor model requires use of a tool to adjust the height of the monitors. Tilts, rotates and pans
- Single monitor models enable manual monitor height adjustment. Tilts and rotates. No pan
- Adequate stability to support forearms on the platform and perform hand writing
- Integrated cable management
- USB ports integrated in base of tower- face of tower needs to be removed with flat head screwdriver for USB access
- Large model – for users using either single or dual monitors and basic desktop items.
- Broad range of individuals
- Use with a non-numeric keyboard. May need a mouse mat to enable effective mouse navigation
Not recommended for
- Small model not recommended
Image DescriptionUsability and Application
The varidesk is a manually height adjustable (spring assist lift) matte black finish work platform designed to sit on an existing desk.
Pro-plus model A split work platform incorporating a keyboard platform which adjusts independently of the work platform. Dimensions:890 w x 590 d (mid-point) x 15 thick mm.
- Comes fully assembled
- Suitable for corner and rectilinear workstations with a minimum depth of 650mm
- Freestanding -no clamping or drilling to desk
- Platform dimensions of Pro model offer adequate workspace. Single and Pro plus offer limited workspace
- Rises to a work height of 1110mm (on a 720mm desk) which will accommodate users up to approximately 182cm in height. Adjusts between sitting and standing height in 2-3 seconds
- Adjustment requires applying moderate force via handles on platform away from the body-force proportionate to the weight of items on the platform. Pro models (larger, heavier) not suitable for users with back injuries
- Adds 15mm height to work height when sitting. This will be generally tolerated without making other adjustments
- Flexible positioning of monitor
- No capacity for monitor height adjustment. May require an additional means of raising monitor-suggest Fellowes Premium monitor riser
- If work tasks necessitate use of 2 monitors and multiple files or desktop items the platform may not be large enough and may become quite heavy to adjust
- Possible to write on and support forearms on the platform
- No integrated cable management
- Users (under 182cm in height) seeking a simple and inexpensive sit stand work option
- Users with single monitor and minimal desktop items.
- Single model: suitable only for users with single monitor and minimal desktop items
- Pro plus model: offers most versatility and space
Not recommended for
- Users with back symptoms/ impairment
- Users over 182cm height
- Users with 2 monitors and multiple desk top items as this imposes too much weight on the platform translating to considerable manual force exertion when raising/lowering
Guidelines for optimal standing at work
- Ensure that there is sufficient toe clearance to enable standing close to the workstation/counter and reduce the potential for leaning forward while working. 100mm of clear depth and 100mm of vertical height is recommended. Nothing should intrude into the thigh space e.g. protruding drawer handles
- Organise work to minimize twisting and reaching- move the feet, step lunge to reach
- For hard surfaces anti-fatigue matting should be supplied with a sloped or beveled edge to eliminate the risk of tripping. When installing anti-fatigue matting, consider the application/environment in which it will be used including requirements such as chemical spill resistance, oil resistance, heat resistance, etc.
- A stand-alone flat footrest can be useful where prolonged standing is required. Dimensions 120-160mm in height with a surface large enough to accommodate the length of the foot (200mm x 200mm approximately). Alternating elevating one foot at a time helps maintain the neutral spine (lordosis) in the lower back and combats fatigue
- Stand with the feet ‘shoulder’ width apart and with a very slight bend at the knees. This encourages more even distribution of weight over the entire surface of the soles. Locking your legs straight forces your body weight through your heels and loads the back muscles.
- Select well- fitting comfortable shoes with a firm heel grip, arch support and cushioned insole- particularly if walking or standing on concrete/timber or metal floors.
- Do calf raises to increase circulation to the lower legs. Take advantage of any pauses in work to do some gentle stretching
Optimal work heights for standing
Different work activities require different work heights. The following is a guideline however due to the considerable variation in worker body dimensions, fixed dimension workstation heights will never accommodate all users and wherever possible building in height adjustability is recommended
- Precision work, such as fine assembly, writing, repairing small items, restoring artwork where elbow support is needed: approximately at or just above elbow height.
- Light work such as keyboard work, mail sorting, administrative counter work, library service desk lending: approximately 50-80mm below elbow height.
- Heavy work involving application of force downwards or handling /using bulky items e.g handling animals, maintenance workshops, packing boxes, pipetting, operating bench top laboratory equipment: approximately 150-300mm below elbow height.
The following general advice is directed at maximizing your postural comfort at work during pregnancy. Any specific health issues regarding your pregnancy should be discussed with your treating doctor/health practitioner.
- Back pain is common during pregnancy. The lower spine is pulled forward by the increasing weight of the baby exaggerating the lumbar curve. This can impose strain on both the back muscles and the abdominal muscles. Tailbone (coccyx) pain is often experienced
- As the girth expands the centre of gravity moves forward leading to adjustments in posture to maintain balance
- Ligaments and tendons become more relaxed due to high relaxing levels, which accommodates for the growing baby and can lead to joint pain
- Increased blood volume increases the pressure in the leg veins which may make prolonged standing difficult and uncomfortable, as well as result in some swelling
- Swelling in the arms may also be present and can cause pressure on nerves and blood vessels resulting in reduced sensation in the hand (Carpal tunnel syndrome)
Tips for improving comfort when sitting
- Sit right back into your chair with your back slightly reclined. Ensure the backrest is adjusted so it neatly fits the curve of your lower back
- Ensure your hips are slightly above your knees
- Ensure your feet are supported – either on a footrest or the floor
- Keep your feet apart to make room for your belly and distribute the weight evenly
- Avoid sitting for more than 30minutes. Get up and stretch your legs for at least 3 minutes
- Special cushions/inserts may relieve back pain*
- Use the swivel and castors to assist with movement
- Organise desktop items within close reach
- Keep the wrists as flat and aligned as possible
- A footstool with a free floating platform can improve circulation and reduce ankle swelling*
*Some of these items are available for loan by emailing the University Services Health and Safety team.
Tips for improving comfort when standing
- Avoid prolonged standing in the same position. Locate a chair wherever possible
- It is common to compensate for the natural forward shift in centre of gravity by leaning backwards, however this can result in back strain and discomfort
- Aim to keep your earlobes in line with the middle of your shoulders and your hips
- Keep your knees straight but not locked
- If you notice a large curve in your lower back try wearing low heeled shoes as opposed to flat shoes
- If prolonged standing is unavoidable, an anti-fatigue mat and a small flat footrest to alternate putting feet up one at a time may provide postural relief*
- Avoid any heavy or forceful manual handling activities
*Some of these items are available for loan by emailing the University Services Health and Safety team.
Need more assistance? What can you do?
If you experience on-going discomfort or pain, please seek the advice of your treating practitioner. Your practitioner will be able to provide specialist advice and may be able to suggest stretching exercises or other solutions that will help to relieve your symptoms.
You should review your computer workstation self-assessment checklist to identify any specific issues with your working arrangements. Implement control measures in conjunction with your supervisor.
Speak to your supervisor about changing your work practices and tasks and perhaps reducing or altering the physical demands of your workload.
How can we help?
The University Ergonomist and Workstation Assessment Consultant can assist by providing an assessment of your workstation and providing advice on optimising your posture and comfort.
To request this service, ensure that you have completed your computer workstation self-assessment checklist and spoken to your local Health and Safety Business Partner. If necessary, your Business Partner will contact the University Services Health and Safety team to request an appointment to further assess your workstation.
Laptop computers were designed for short-term or mobile use. The portable nature of the laptop results in them being used in a wide variety of situations and settings where there is limited capacity to adjust the desk.
It is usually more difficult to maintain a good typing posture while using a laptop computer. Hunching over to view the screen and reaching forward to type seems to be a common poor posture adopted whilst using a laptop.
It is particularly important to be aware of posture and any discomfort noticed while using the laptop computers.
- Ensure the top of the screen is level with your seated eye height.
- Ensure you use a separate keyboard and mouse if using the laptop for extended periods of time.
- A laptop stand is useful for raising the laptop to a suitable height.
Watch the Manual Tasks Training - Mobile Technology Devices video for more information relating to use of various mobile technology devices including laptops, tables and mobile phones and general guidance.
Injury prevention strategies
Job Design, Supervision and Work Practices
Prevention should be the primary focus of all Health & Safety programs. These strategies will need to include elements of:
- job design
- work organisation
- supervision and training
- the role of the individual and
- the ergonomic design of the workstation.
Managers and Supervisors are encouraged to:
- Ensure that all job descriptions of staff incorporate a variety of tasks which allow variation in movement and posture. A mix of repetitive or static work, and non repetitive work should be included so that recovery from any muscle fatigue is made possible.
- Endeavour to ensure that no employee is required to continually type or enter data for more than 5 hours per day. Where the job involves a major component of keyboard work, or other tasks using the same muscle group, frequent rest breaks should be taken. This structuring of the task should be a matter of discussion and agreement between individuals and their supervisors.
- Allow an adjustment period to the work rates after work absences or during a learning period.
Employees are encouraged to:
- Employees should report any physical discomfort they believe is associated with their work to their Supervisor or Manager.
Rest breaks can range from short pauses to defined breaks such as lunch.
Short Pause Breaks
These are short breaks that provide an opportunity for muscles that have been active in keyboard or mouse use to rest and recover and muscles which have been fixed such as shoulder muscles or leg muscles to move.
Short Pause Break activities include:
- Answering the phone
- Collecting a document from the printer
- Getting a cup of tea or glass of water
- Visiting a colleague rather than phoning or emailing them.
Where a variety of alternative tasks are not available, it is important to have more breaks away from the task. The length of these and how often they are taken depends on the work, the person and other factors however it is important to note that frequent short pauses are preferable to infrequent longer pauses.
Doing exercises during breaks can provide a variety of postural changes and movement for muscles during periods of intense work. These exercises may be useful where there are no alternative tasks available. Exercises should be gentle stretches which provide rest for frequently used muscles and movement for muscles which have been static. The best exercise is usually to get up from a seated position and move around.
Health and Fitness
Your general state of health can affect your comfort and safety when working at a computer. Studies show that a variety of health conditions may increase the risk of discomfort, muscle and joint disorders and injuries.
Exercising regularly helps to improve physical fitness and avoid adverse health conditions. It also assists the body to better cope with unexpected increased demands such as prolonged static postures or an unexpected excessive reach or manual handling task.
Personal Tolerance Levels and Limits
All computer users have different levels of tolerance for intensive work over a long period. Those who have pre-existing health conditions should be particularly careful to avoid exceeding personal tolerance levels.
Working from home
The University of Melbourne supports flexible work arrangements for its staff. Some staff members have the opportunity to work from home and so suitable working arrangements must be made.
Flexible Work Arrangements Procedure (MPF1155): Home based work for professional staff outlines the process for establishing work from home. To meet OHS requirements any staff member working under a home-based agreement will need to:
- comply with the University Health and Safety Policy (MPF1205) and report any incidents.
- complete the Computer workstation self-assessment checklist.
- arrange for a suitably qualified nominee or an independent contractor to conduct a home-based work station assessment before commencing work. The Health & Safety team highly recommend Fiona Begg. Fiona is an ergonomist and occupational therapist who has undertaken many of these assessments and does regular consulting work for the university. Fiona can be contacted directly via firstname.lastname@example.org. Your local department are responsible for arranging and paying for this work station assessment - talk to your local Health and Safety Business Partner for assistance.