It’s not just seat cushions that are impacted by long periods of sitting. You may have heard the phrase “sitting is the new smoking.” There is evidence to suggest that the comparison is a fitting one. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH), prolonged sitting is associated with a variety of negative health effects that include back and shoulder pain, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and chronic diseases. What’s more, people who sit for long periods of time as part of their job can still be at risk for these conditions even if they otherwise meet recommended levels of physical activity outside of work.

New guidance from NIOSH known as Total Worker Health® (THW) offers employers solutions to the problem of prolonged sitting on the job, protecting employees from workplace injuries while helping them to improve their overall health and well-being, both on and off the clock.

According to NIOSH, a sedentary job is one that involves predominately sitting, with occasional walking, standing, and lifting no more than 10 pounds. Examples include management and professional work, office and administrative support roles, as well as cashiers, data entry, and call center employees.

Some of the ways organizations can reduce sedentary include offering the flexibility to have standing or walking meetings, providing sit-stand work stations and encouraging flexible rest breaks.

Not surprisingly, cutting down on worker sedentary time also spells benefits for employers. Some of the direct benefits, NIOSH says, include reductions in health-related expenses and in absenteeism. Some of the indirect benefits may include improved worker morale, better recruitment and retention, and even reduced injury rates.

For organizations considering incorporating TWH into their existing health and safety programs, NIOSH offers the following guidance:
-Include senior management support and worker participation in all health initiatives.
-Involve workers and their representatives in designing and implementing procedures and practices to reduce sedentary work and promote physical activity.
-Ensure that any program meant to advance workplace well-being has the commitment of organizational leadership.
-Evaluate existing resources and current policies, programs, and practices to find what works to promote physical activity and future needs.
-Allow workers more control over their activities, workloads, and schedules, and allow them to set up their workstations to take physical activity breaks after long periods of sitting.
-Educate managers and supervisors on ways to reduce job stress faced by workers.
-Ensure privacy by adhering to the regulatory requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, etc. and train staff in privacy and confidentiality.
-Link existing worker safety and health programs to current programs in use in the workplace.
-Offer organizational support to encourage physical activity such as walking or biking to work or during breaks.
-Provide health information about the risks of sedentary work to employees.

The full document, “Using Total Worker Health® Concepts to Reduce the Health Risks from Sedentary Work,” is available at https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2017-131/.