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Sedentary work

If you’re sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time without taking a break, it’s likely to have an impact on your health.

What’s sedentary work?

Safe Work Australia defines sedentary behaviour as anything you do while you are sitting or reclining.

A lot of people sit for long periods to do their work. With advances in technology, workers are sitting even more throughout their day. Eighty-one per cent of Australian workers report some sitting at work (occupational sitting) and 50 per cent report sitting often or all the time at work (1).

Jobs that involve sedentary behaviour include computer-based work, working in a call centre, operating mobile and fixed plant and machinery such as trucks, cranes, shovels or sitting at a control panel.

What are the risks?

Too much sitting can have serious consequences, including:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • some cancers
  • poor mental health
  • musculoskeletal disorders and discomfort.

There’s an increased risk of dying prematurely for people who sit for more than 11 hours a day. Even if you exercise regularly, if you sit for long periods during the day, you’re at risk.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to find ways to incorporate physical activity into the day and design work to reduce excessive sitting. A healthy workplace benefits everyone. Access more information about how you can create safe work.

You can also use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2011 (PDF, 1.02 MB).

For workers

If you do a lot of sitting at work, there are some simple ways you can build more physical activity into your day. This short film has information about how you can stay active while working on your computer.

Make simple changes to reduce sitting time and increase movement:

  • Get out of your chair or seat and go for a walk.
  • If you’re driving all day, take your breaks standing and walking.
  • Walk or cycle to work (active commuting).
  • Organise a walking meeting.
  • Stand up or walk around while on phone calls.
  • Use your sit/stand desk if you have one.
  • Get off the bus or train one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way.
  • Park your car further away and increase your walking distance.

For businesses

Prolonged sitting at work is a hazard. Employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must manage the risks of identified hazards according to work health and safety laws.

Following a four-step risk management process will help your business meet its responsibilities.

Four steps to managing the risk of sedentary work

Jobs where workers sit or recline for more than 30 minutes at a time and work that lacks whole-of-body movement are hazardous.

Identify the contributing factors of sedentary work in your workplace by:

Next assess the level of risk posed by each hazard. This information will help you choose the best ways to control that risk. You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

A risk assessment can help you figure out:

  • where, which and how many workers (including contractors and subcontractors) are likely to be at risk from excessive sitting
  • the degree of harm that could be possible for each worker
  • whether any control measures are already in place and if they’re effective
  • what actions you can take to control the risks of sedentary work
  • how quickly you should act.

Once you’ve got a good understanding of the risks at work, choose how you are going to reduce or eliminate them.

The How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice (PDF, 1.02 MB) has information about the hierarchy of risk controls. This information will help you decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work.

The most effective way of controlling the risks is to eliminate the hazard. If this isn’t reasonably practicable, you must minimise the risks. Relying on behaviour changes such as scheduling breaks is not as effective as higher-order controls like redesigning your place of work and how you do tasks.

Consider, for example:

  • changing your place of work to locate bins, photocopiers and printers in a central area
  • providing sit/stand workstations
  • changing how you do the work by reviewing work tasks and schedules to increase movement and vary tasks.

Some simple administrative changes might include:

  • having standing and walking meetings
  • providing workers with information about the risks of sedentary work
  • promoting regular movement in your organization’s policies.

You could also implement programs that encourage being more active, such as:

Risk management should be an ongoing process in your business and you should review control measures regularly.

You can read more about reviewing controls on this page about managing risks.

Standards and compliance

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act) provides a framework to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers at your place of work. It also protects the health and safety of all other people who might be affected by the work.

Codes of practice

Related links

References

  1. Bassett D. La Monte M. Wiese-Bjornstall D. Volpe S. Mechanick J. (2012) Too Much Sitting: Health Risks of Sedentary Behaviour and Opportunities for Change. President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. Research Digest. Series 13, Number 3.