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Sedentary jobs an occupational hazard for many industries

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Truck driving and crane operating, as well as office-based occupations, are contributing to sedentary behaviour in the workplace and creating a growing range of health risks, a new Curtin University and Safe Work Australia report has found.

Safe Work Australia commissioned a team of experts led by Professor Leon Straker, Curtin’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, to examine the most recent evidence from Australia and overseas on sedentary work, its likely consequences and potential control options.

Professor Straker said a high proportion of workers were exposed to prolonged sitting at work and evidence showed a number of adverse health effects associated with sedentary work.

“Overall exposure to sedentary behaviour, especially prolonged, unbroken sitting time, is associated with a range of poor health outcomes including musculoskeletal problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature death,” Professor Straker said.

“The harm associated with prolonged occupational sitting is likely due to insufficient dynamic muscle activity, insufficient energy expenditure, insufficient movement, lack of postural variety, and diminished gravitational resistance.”

One half of workers across a number of industries and occupations report sitting often or for all of the time they are at work.

Previous research has demonstrated regularly sitting for longer than 30 minutes without changing posture and moving – or sitting for the majority of your day – is likely to be detrimental to your health.

To date, assessment of occupational exposure has largely been focussed on office work environments, however it’s important to note that traditionally ‘blue collared’ occupations such as forestry, mining and farming, are also at high risk.

“Previously, these primary industry roles required workers to be very physically active, however as technology has progressed, workers have been able to do the same roles from a sedentary position,” Professor Straker said.

“Sedentary behaviour at work, as well as the time spent sitting while commuting and during leisure time, can all increase a person’s overall risk of sedentary-related health issues.

“For some jobs there are simple ways to prevent prolonged occupational sitting, such as standing to read a document, having a standing or walking meeting, standing while talking on the phone, or walking to deliver a message to a colleague rather than emailing.

“Small steps such as these could make all the difference in the long term,” Professor Straker said.

Based on this report, Safe Work Australia has called on employers and workers to aim to reduce their time sitting at work.

The literature review, Sedentary Work: Evidence on an Emergent Work Health and Safety Issue, is available on the Safe Work Australia website and was completed in collaboration with Baker IDI and the University of Queensland.

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