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Standing at Work: The Negative Effects on your Health

Medical research suggests that while desk jobs aren't good for your health, standing up at work all day could have an equally negative impact on your long-term health. According to a study carried out in Zurich, Switzerland, people who stand for five hours a day at work can suffer from "prolonged and significant" lower-limb muscle fatigue. This can increase the risks of long-term back pain and even musculoskeletal disorders in later life.

This is bad news for the millions of retail assistants, bank tellers, assembly line workers and other employees who earn their salary by standing up for much or all of the day.

Standing up at work

© Studio Romantic / Adobe Stock


How does excessive standing affect your health?

The study led by Maria-Gabriela Garcia, a doctoral candidate at ETH Zurich's department of health sciences and technology, claims almost half of all workers spend more than 75% of their working day on their feet. While a couple hours' standing isn't likely to cause any long-term health issues, longer periods can have detrimental effects - standing for a long period is associated with short-term health issues, such as backache and leg cramps.

The study involved men and women, 50% of whom were aged between 18 and 50 and the other 50% aged between 50 and 65 years old. None of the subjects had a history of musculoskeletal or neurological disorders. All refrained from high levels of exertion the day before the start of the study.

Everyone was asked to simulate light tasks, replicating a shift at a manufacturing plant, as if they were standing at a work bench for five hours. They had regular rest breaks of five minutes and one 30-minute lunch break. Their posture and leg muscle stress were monitored. Participants were asked to report if they experienced any discomfort.

The survey revealed that all the participants, regardless of their gender or age, were equally prone to experiencing significant fatigue by the end of the working day. After the period of standing ended, signs of muscle fatigue were still being experienced 30 minutes later.


How many workers have health issues?

Research into musculoskeletal disorders caused by work-related problems shows 40% of employees have suffered connected health issues, affecting their ligaments, cartilage, muscles, nerves, tendons, skeleton and vascular system. According to the World Health Organisation, the individual's work environment can significantly contribute to these disorders.

Statistics published by the Health and Safety Executive claimed around 176,000 people in the UK were affected by work-related musculoskeletal disorders in their upper limbs and neck, while 86,000 employees had problems with their lower limbs.

Fatigue from standing too long at work (particularly on a hard surface) means your heart has to work harder as well. It also puts extra pressure on your veins. If you're feeling very tired while standing, it could mean more damage is being done. If you find yourself shifting from foot to foot when trying to relieve fatigue, this can cause additional problems with your joints, including ankles and knees.


Is anti-fatigue matting the solution?

A study at Loughborough University examined whether anti-fatigue matting made a difference to workers who were on their feet all day. The people who took part in the tests said they had felt the benefits of anti-fatigue matting in comparison with concrete floors, as their fatigue was reduced.

The matting should be chosen to suit the staff member's specific location, after seeking professional advice from a workplace health expert. Available in various thicknesses with different compression levels, some matting is made from cushioned PVC foam - ideal for bench and workstation areas.

Other matting, such as heavy-duty Trax-foamed PVC anti-fatigue matting, is best for laboratory areas, assembly lines, machine work and packaging stations.

For workplaces where there's a lot of electrical equipment, such as office environments, special anti-static cushioned foam matting is available to absorb static electricity too.

The matting's performance is governed by its thickness and compression level. Comfort levels are subjective and can vary from person to person, so it may take some time for every employee to find the right fit when it comes to anti-fatigue matting.


What's the law relating to standing at work?

Employees should be given training to make sure they recognise and understand how their physical discomfort can lead to chronic injuries and conditions later on in life. They should take regular breaks, wear the correct comfortable footwear and make sure the layout of their workstation is in the best position to maintain physical health.

The Workplace (Health and Safety) Regulations 1992 state that an employer must supply suitable seating if employees are able to perform a substantial part of their duties sitting down. However, this law is rarely used. There have been only five improvement notices served on businesses, insisting on seats for employees. All of the employers complied without having to prosecute them.

For information on Coruba's range of anti-fatigue matting suitable for the work environment, email info@coruba.co.uk or give us a call on 01702 560194.

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