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Notify WorkSafe Call 1300 366 322

Sedentary work

The issue

Workers across many industries and occupations report that they are sitting often or all the time at work. Daily screen time has grown, and there is a continued drift away from manual jobs towards sedentary jobs.

The risks to health

Prolonged and uninterrupted sitting is associated with health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, musculoskeletal disorders, some cancers — even premature death.

These negative health effects are due to insufficient movement and muscle activity, low energy expenditure and a lack of changes in posture.

Compounding this, health problems caused by prolonged sitting remain even if you exercise vigorously every day.

Actions to take: PCBUs

Workplaces can promote and support a standing-friendly culture by encouraging standing meetings (or parts of meetings) and encouraging managers to model standing behaviours and regular movement.

  • Review and revise job and task design to minimise sitting time.
  • Try walking meetings.
  • Encourage workers who drive for their job to take regular stop-and-stretch breaks.

‘Environmental’ options are:

  • investing in height-adjustable desks that are stable and easy for workers to control and adjust
  • moving waste bins, printers and supplies away from individual offices/workstations to more central locations.

Actions to take: Everyone

Aim to replace sitting with standing or walking when ever possible. For example:

  • vary work tasks throughout the day so that there’s a change in posture and different types of muscles are used
  • take regular breaks. If you need a reason other than moving, make a cuppa or go to the loo that is furthest away from you
  • stand to read a document
  • stand when you’re on the phone. Get a cordless headset so you can stand and move around your workspace while on the phone
  • walk to deliver a message to a co-worker rather than emailing them
  • use the stairs instead of the lift
  • eat lunch away from your desk. Walk to a local park or greenspace.

Using height adjustable desks

Make sure your desk is set up correctly to reduce the risk of introducing other ergonomic issues.

  • Position the keyboard at elbow height and the monitor at eye level when standing.
  • Stand evenly on both feet. Avoid slouching or putting your weight on one leg.
  • Wear suitable footwear for prolonged standing. Avoid high heels or non-supportive footwear.
  • Work your way up to standing all day. It can be tiring so sit down when you need to. Mix it up!

Activity trackers

More and more of us wear activity trackers to count our steps, or have software programs that interrupt our work and remind us to get up and move.

However, there is a risk that these technologies may lead to ‘behavioural monitoring’, where the focus is on the individual worker’s behaviour and not on implementing more reliable workplace control measures.

Resources and solutions

Active workplaces: Heart Foundation (external link)

Reducing prolonged sitting in the workplace video: VicHealth (external link)

Sedentary work: evidence on an emergent work health and safety issue report: Safe Work Australia (external link)

Updated: 29th October 2019