Yesterday Australia’s Fairfax Media reported on a “policy” supposedly being applied in the Western Australia resources sector by Chevron Australia that requires workers to stand, rather than sit, for the purposes of increasing productivity. The initiative has been roundly ridiculed by various political and social commentators, including the Minister for Workplace Relations, Bill Shorten. However few have mentioned that the actions by the “policy” may be in line with recent OHS guidance issued by an Australian government safety authority, Comcare, or that the Victorian Government has granted $A600,000 for research into the use of standing workstations.
SafetyAtWorkBlog has been informed that Chevron has had no role in the production of the “leaked memo” and that this memo is likely to be notes and verbal advice provided at a low-level on a worksite and even simply as part of a regular toolbox meeting. Fairfax Media is unfairly linking two disparate issues, dragging in Chevron who is not involved with the information and potential damaging valid safety information through unjustified ridicule.
In another Fairfax Media article, the leaked memo, “Efficient production of work crews”, (not publicly available) states:
“Labour is not allowed to sit down during normal working hours, unless their duties require…” (important emphasis added)
There is no blanket ban on sitting at work.
In August 2012, Comcare launched a toolkit about sedentary work that included a business case arguing that prolonged sitting at work created health and business costs. According to Comcare these are the facts:
“The research is clear—long periods of sitting have serious health consequences for workers:
- on average, office workers sit for 76 per cent of the day
- considerable evidence suggests that prolonged sitting increases the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and death
- people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 per cent increased risk of death in the next three years compared with people who sit for less than four hours
- workers who have been in sedentary roles for more than 10 years have double the risk of colon cancer
- prolonged sitting is an independent risk factor, even if you engage in regular exercise
- long periods of sitting are a suspected risk factor in the development of musculoskeletal disorders
- even short, regular breaks from sitting can be beneficial for workers’ health.”
In the face of this evidence it is sensible to advocate for a reduction in prolonged sitting at work.
There seem to be good productivity reasons to instigate a, predominantly, standing workforce as the Australian Government’s own advice on sedentary work encourages standing for business and safety benefits. Behind the current comments in the media about ridiculous policies and the abuse of common sense, is a legitimate workplace safety concern, one that is being addressed in a wide range of industries through the introduction of standing workstations.
Safety professionals and associations need to provide some balance into the current media flurry so that those ill-informed elf’n’safety advocates do not get a foothold in Australian media.
Below is a video from VicHealth on sedentary work.