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Is Sit-Stand Right for Your Workspace?

- October 14, 2016 by Thomas Jolliff, ARM, CEES, ALCM (View all posts by Thomas)

The sit-stand work surface trend is not a new idea, but it has become an increasingly popular  topic in offices around the country. It is one of the most common questions I get from my customers.

The two most common inquiries, or concerns: will this reduce our exposure for cumulative trauma-related (CT) injuries, and, what are the pros and cons? These are valid questions that should be answered before deciding whether a sit-stand program is right for your workplace. So, let’s discuss.

As with all risk, you first want to identify your exposure and quantify your findings.

To do this, ask yourself the following:

  • What is the frequency (number of times exposed to hazard)?
  • What is the likelihood (chance that severity can be realized)?
  • What is the severity (consequences of hazard being realized) of CT exposure in your current office?

Frequency factors in an office setting can include repetition, awkward postures, long durations of work, and static posture.

Factors affecting the likelihood of a CT injury include the presence, or lack, of a formal ergonomic evaluation prior to starting work, the availability of job or task rotation, training and engineering controls.

The severity of injury can be reduced by reducing frequency and likelihood, while also implementing a strong a return to work protocol and claims management practices.

After applying the three above questions to your office, you can now determine if a sit-stand workstation will reduce the risk of CT injuries.

Cornell University Professor Alan Hedge is a leading authority on workplace ergonomics, and has studied the effects of sit-stand work surfaces for decades. In a technical report published in 2004, Hedge assessed the effects of an electric height adjustable work surface (EHAW) on self-assessed musculoskeletal discomfort and productivity in computer workers.

His report concluded that there may be a number of benefits associated with using EHAWs.  Apart from some minor increases in the frequency of experiencing some musculoskeletal discomfort, there were substantial decreases in the severity of many upper body MSD symptoms after working at the EHAWs.

These improvements occurred over a relatively short time scale of 4 to 6 weeks, which suggests that the potential benefits may be even greater after longer time periods of use. There were significant improvements in comfort ratings for all aspects of the furniture workstations with the EHAWs, and there was almost a unanimous preference for the EHAW arrangement.

What are the pros and cons of sit-stand workstations?

While everyone’s experiences and opinions vary, current research shows that:

Pros

  • Standing promotes movement throughout the work day and employees report increased energy
  • Standing reduces the exposure of static posture (common to sitting)
  • Standing boosts our alertness
  • Switching between sitting and standing promotes leg circulation and may help reduce pressure on vertebrae (and associated lower back pain)

Cons

  • Cost.  Sit-stand workstations start around $300
  • Standing for extended periods of time can cause leg, feet and back fatigue
  • Ergonomic adjustments made to your keyboard and monitor height while sitting may not translate to your standing position
  • You are still “inactive”, so don’t forget to take your micro-breaks and stretch your muscles.
  • Your neighbors can see and hear you. To be courteous, and for privacy, sit down to take that call.

Tips for sit-stand comfort

  • Limit standing to 10-15 minutes per hour (listen to your body)
  • Use gel cushion floor mat to reduce feet, leg and back fatigue
  • Use foot stool to place one foot up while standing
  • Do not stand and work in heels; bring extra pair of shoes for standing position
  • Be aware of your “standing” posture – maintain neutral posture for best comfort
  • If you have feet, leg or back problems, get approval from your personal doctor before you begin a sit-stand work regime                       

If you enjoyed learning about this office ergonomic solution, check out our podcasts on Office Work Desk Assessments