Strategies to reduce sedentary behaviour, sit stand workstation, pregnancy, mobile devices, injury prevention strategies and work from home guidelines
Circumstances created by COVID-19 mean the University is asking staff to work from home wherever possible. Find advice on setting up your home office on the designated COVID-19 website under Working from home or remotely.
Sit less, move more
Strategies to reduce sedentary behaviour
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 Health & Safety Services 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 alignment.
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.
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 Health & Safety Services 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 Health & Safety Services 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 first 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 Health & Safety Services 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.
Please also see the Safety bulletin: Mobile devices and walking.
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:
- 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 or remotely
Unplanned working from home guidelines
Due to circumstances created by COVID-19 the University are asking staff to work from home wherever possible. A Temporary working from home self assessment checklist has been specifically developed for use during this time.
Preplanned working from home guidelines
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 procedure for establishing work from home.
Following agreement with your supervisor/manager, formalised through completing a HR 42 - Home Based Work Agreement - Professional Staff, additional health and safety requirements are required, including:
- complying with the University Health and Safety Policy (MPF1205) and reporting any incidents.
- following the steps outlined in the University process, Health & Safety - Work from home.
- completing the Home-based workstation self-assessment checklist.
- returning all required documentation to your local Human Resources Business Partner.
Note: You can undertake your own home-based assessment providing you have completed the Office Ergonomics training in TrainME.
If you require an independent contractor to conduct the home-based workstation assessment before commencing work, the Health & Safety team 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 email@example.com or 0438 599 079. Your local department is responsible for arranging and paying for this work station assessment - talk to your local Health and Safety Business Partner for assistance.
- Safety Bulletin 2019/06: Mobile devices and walking
- Safety Bulletin 2018/03: Sit stand workstation
- Safety Bulletin 2017/05: Sit/Stand desktop units
Requirements and Processes
Flexible Work Arrangements Procedure (MPF1155) - See section 3: Home based work for professional staff