A report on the evidence for sit-stand desks in the workplace

Sit to stand desks are a common request currently in the work place for injury prevention as well as prevention of the health risks that are associated with sedentary work and behaviours. The physiological benefits of regular posture changes throughout the working day are becoming more evident.

Studies have revealed the negative effect of sitting on musculoskeletal and metabolic systems, as well as mental fatigue and productivity to a lesser effect (Healy et al 2008, Karkolis & Callaghan 2014, David & Kotowski 2014, Buckley et al 2015).

Musculoskeletal disorders are linked to prolonged sitting and make up to 44% of compensable injuries in the workplace and 15-22% of sick leave (Healy et al 2012). Comcare reports a risk of physical injuries if a worker maintains a static posture. This may be prolonged sitting or standing.

Alternating between sitting or standing results in the least discomfort (compared with sitting or standing alone) and was reported as the preferred posture by 70% of participants in a study by Roelofs & Straker (2002). Posture variability was linked to a decrease in short term discomfort at the end of the day without a negative impact on productivity.

There are varying guidelines available on the use of sit to stand workstations. This is an area that is under constant review. Workers must have education on the correct use of sit to stand desks as there are also negative effects of prolonged standing (Waters and Dick 2014).

There is some discussion about desktop sit-stand workstations versus sit -stand desks. A sit-stand desk is generally preferable as the entire workstation is adjustable. A desktop unit may be suitable when a computer is used without the need to copy from documents, use the phone frequently or refer to files open on the desk. Be aware that some longer keyboards and mouse combinations may not fit on some desktop workstation platforms.

Whilst on the topic of frequent position changes, don’t forget another important strategy to prevent the detrimental effect of sedentary workplaces, movement. A study by McLean and colleagues found microbreaks had a positive effect on reducing discomfort in all musculoskeletal areas studied during computer terminal work. These were most effective when taken at 20 minute intervals. Interestingly, there was no evidence of detrimental effects of microbreaks on worker productivity (McLean et all 2001). One recommendation is two minutes of light intensity exercise such as walking every 20 minutes to reverse the negative impact of sitting. Specific exercises may also be provided by a Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist for particular problems or injury prevention strategies.

SUMMARY

• Sit to stand workstations have been researched since 2009 and there is further research underway investigating the benefits of reducing sitting time in the workplace, using sit –stand desks as a strategy.

• Varying the working position from sitting to standing has been shown to reduce and prevent musculoskeletal injuries

• Training of staff on the correct us of a sit to stand workstation is important as prolonged standing is also linked to a range of health and musculoskeletal problems.

• Sit-stand desks are preferable to desktop models.

• Innovative strategies encouraging more movement through the working day are also a positive step to reducing the effects of a sedentary job.

• 2 minutes of light intensity exercise such as walking is recommended every 20 minutes

Acknowledging Marina Vitale and Kristine Lew APAM for their contributions to this report.

*References are available on request.

Report Completed by Kylie Plunkett (Physiotherapist) on 9th of July 2016.