Ergonomics done right.®
June 20th, 2013

Sit vs. Stand Webinar Q&A

We had a huge response to our June 5th webinar, Sit vs. Stand: What’s the Best Ergonomic Design? Co-sponsored by Ergotron, the event generated some great questions, so we thought we’d post a summary here.

Q:   How do you determine if a sit-stand option is the optimal solution for a given employee? How do you differentiate between a need and a want (i.e. “ergo envy”)?

 A:   In our experience, “ergo envy” (a.k.a. “stand envy”) can be a realistic outcome. Logically, to ensure a positive yield on your ROI, the provision of a sit-stand workstation would be focused first on those at high risk for the health dangers imposed by a sit-only or stand-only work routine, and would include those FTEs:

  1. Who have a pre-existing condition or injury that is exacerbated by long periods of sitting or long periods of standing, and/or;
  2. Those whose work forces them to sit (or stand) greater than 75% of their day­.

That being said, in the spirit of “keeping healthy employees healthy”, it may be worth evaluating your current wellness program offerings, identifying those that might not be yielding a positive ROI (and producing the engagement rates you desire); and re-allocating funds to include sit-stand solutions.

If you’re interested in exploring sit-stand work areas and would like help in the participant selection process, Wendy has produced a participant survey that companies have found very helpful, weeding out those who simply want a sit-stand work area, against those in the above two groups who are in more of an immediate need for one. Please do not hesitate to reach out to Wendy for assistance.

Q:   ­How much is too much standing, especially in manufacturing?

A:   For an industrial environment, it is dependent on your workplace.  Operators are often exposed to reaching, walking, and material handling tasks that we may not see in the office environment.  These tasks are best performed while standing to reduce the compressive force on the back.  Ideally, you would like to have tasks where operators are cross-trained and can rotate from a seated tostanding task, but that is not always possible.

Opportunities to sit on breaks throughout the day will alleviate some of the stress from standing all day.    In addition, providing products like anti-fatigue matting, insoles, and various standing surfaces (e.g.: wood versus concrete) can alleviate some of the discomfort associated with standing. The movement required by many manufacturing tasks will improve blood flow and circulation.

Q:   Changing habits can be challenging.  How can we ensure employees stick to this new behavior? ­

A:   As employers, we can influence healthier behavior while at work by providing the tool(s) that can help (i.e. sit-stand workstation) and the informational resources and education needed to ensure they understand WHY they need to use it to modify their unhealthy behaviors (health dangers of sitting; health benefits of standing). 

Provision of the intervention tool or wellness component, without the proper (and continuous) education to support it, in our experience, can increase the risk for non-adherence.

Also, as suggested in the webinar, creating a “culture of movement”, where all employees feel open and are encouraged to stand more and sit less while working (throughout the workplace) will significantly help promote adherence.

Q:   What is your opinion on treadmill workstations?

A:   The jury is out on using a Treadmill as a workspace solution. While it’s expected you wouldn’t go more than 1mph, and many find that they can work while walking at that pace, there are many others who can’t.  Budget and space are also significant considerations. Not only that, but many companies are concerned about potential injury impact leading to worker’s comp claims and/or insurance increases.

Most fitness experts would say to “save the treadmill for exercise” and instead, carve out ½ hr to take a brisk walk – to break up sedentary time while improving your cardio-metabolic health.  Opinions vary, and in Humantech’s blog post, Who is the Ergonomics Community, we address Treadmill use in the office and why most ergonomists object to it as a workspace solution.

Studies show that a combination of switching between seated and standing positions (“postural rotation”, in combination with standing more (and sitting less) can improve metabolism and burn calories.  You can learn more about calories burned sitting versus standing, through’s Calorie-Burn Calculator.

Q:   What is your recommendation on “exercise balls” for office workstations?

A:   The design of an exercise ball is to create instability, forcing your abdominal and trunk muscles to contract and work harder than they normally would.  They are called exercise balls because they do a great job of forcing you   to engage your core. It is difficult to keep the core stable for the eight hours a day that we typically work and   inevitably there will be fatigue in the muscles.  With that fatigue comes the “slouching” posture which results in added pressure on the passive tissues like the ligaments of the back, and can lead to discomfort and low back pain.

James Mallon, Executive Vice President of Humantech, discusses why replacing the office chair with an exercise or yoga ball demands too much on one’s body (and posture) in this quick WWJ NewsRadio950 podcast.

According to Mallon, the whole design of an exercise or yoga ball is create instability and when used for    prolonged periods of work (or as a replacement to the office chair) places too much demand on your posture muscles, specifically in your abdomen and trunk, forcing them to work harder than they normally would. This can lead to issues like lower back pain; soft tissue compression; and poor circulation

Q:   What are some of the watch outs for a standing work station from a musculoskeletal perspective   (i.e.: back, feet, fatigue, etc)?

A:   Standing for long periods of time may result in low back pain and hip, leg, and foot discomfort.  In addition, there have been reports of increased risk for deep vein thrombosis, hypertension, varicose veins, stroke, and blood clots.

Q:   We are currently considering sit-stand workstations. Is there a recommended daily work stance rate or ratio?

A:   Ideally, you want to move towards cutting your sitting time in half (whatever that means for you) and try   to ease into this.  In a perfect world, you would have not more than one hour of continuous standing and not more than 4 hours of standing in total over an eight hour day.

Q:   You mention the issues with sitting and how it improves with standing.  What about kneeling?­

A:   Kneeling can put added stress on the hip and knee joints and likely does not have back support and may result in increased fatigue. Though, certainly cliché, the following principle is very well-positioned for a truly ergonomic and healthier work routine: everything in moderation. Ergonomists and wellness consultants would agree, maintaining a mindset based on “the next posture is the best posture”, and varying your static positioning often throughout the day is a healthier, more productive way to work.

Q:   ­Why are risks for injury different for men and women?

A:   There are a variety of reasons that may be associated with the gender differences when it comes to injury and reporting.  The Personal and Workplace Psychosocial Risk Factors for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome  study that was cited in the webinar showed an increased risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome for women. This may be associated with physiological differences (e.g., lower strength relative to task demands).

Gender also seems to play a role in development of injuries when exposed to forceful grip and/or repetitions  (Violante et al., J Occup Environ 2007).

Women have smaller stature and decreased strength, on average, and therefore those types of tasks may require working at a higher percentage of her maximum capabilities or require a change in posture.

It is also suggested that, typically, men have higher metabolism rates than women do. This may explain   one reason why the women observed (as presented in the webinar) about the American Cancer Society’s Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults linked long periods of sitting to earlier mortality rates and found that the women participant had a higher risk of premature death than men (whether physically active, or not).

Q: ­  Most of our employees are commercial drivers, spending roughly 10-12 hours a day in a sitting     position.  What can we do to offset this exposure?

A: ­  Here are a few tips for trying to encourage or offer healthy behaviors when not on the road:

  1. Provide an opportunity to allow drivers to stretch/exercise, as a group, before going out on the road, or after they come back­.  If your budget allows, bring in a fitness coach to lead 30 min classes; or ask an employee to volunteer to “lead” the group in a stretching/exercise “class”.
  2. Monitor or define their routes to create or allow short breaks from sitting. Encourage and educate them, as required, that while on stops to do 15 min of stretching and 15 min of brief cardio—possibly reducing the 1 hour lunch to a ½ hour to allow this.
  3. If your drivers are responsible for deliveries, be sure that they take a short time to stand and/or walk prior to lifting a load. For example, UPS or FedEx drivers will often enter a building and check in, perform administrative tasks, and determine if there are packages for pick up prior to unloading the delivered packages. This gives the driver an opportunity to stretch, stabilize and prepare the back for lifting tasks.
  4. If sitting all day, promote a lunch routine that involved standing, even if just 15 to 30 minutes.