Thursday 10th March 2016
You don’t have to be a comic to do stand-up
|In today's Health & Safety Bulletin:|
- Is sitting really the new smoking?
|As I walk around the office these days, it often catches my eye that many of my colleagues seem to be simply standing around looking out the window. However, on closer inspection, I can see that they are working – but doing it standing up. They do this with the benefit of an adjustable stand-up desk.|
Why have a stand-up desk?|
There is considerable evidence to suggest that long-term sitting down is detrimental to one’s health. Even when people exercise regularly this can still be the case because sedentary behaviour is known to increase the risk of illness and disease.
On the other hand, there is evidence that shows a reduced risk of chronic disease with people who move more during the day. Added to this benefit are the benefits of improved weight management and the reduction in the risk of developing muscular skeletal disorders. These benefits are endorsed by the Heart Foundation of Australia.
It surprised me that adults who engage in regular planned exercise are still at risk. This is because those adults may still sit for long periods during the day, even if they have strenuously exercised for shorter periods during the day. Those periods of exercise do not necessarily combat the long-term impact of sedentary behaviour.
How do stand-up desks fit in with reducing illness?
As we know, there are a number of other simple strategies that workplaces can put in place to encourage movement that do not require equipment such as a stand-up desk. These include:
While some of these strategies address the problem, for the majority of office-based workers the real area of risk is still the hours and hours spent sitting at the desk and focussing on a computer screen or documents.
- walking around the office to discuss matters with colleagues rather than using phone or email
- using handsets on speaker during teleconferencing to enable standing
- parking the car farther away from work and using stairs rather than lifts.
Unlike other strategies, stand-up desks certainly offer an easy opportunity for workers to have a break from sitting regularly. To that end, they do provide a significant advantage other strategies.
Do I have to give everybody a stand-up desk?
There isn’t a legal obligation to provide a stand-up desk to every worker, but a refusal to do so if one is requested may expose an employer to certain risks.
Under safety laws, the employer has a general duty of care to ensure the health and safety of its workers. The extent to which an employer must take steps to control those risks is limited by the concept of “reasonably practicable”, which only means taking those steps that were reasonably able to be taken at the time.
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|Provision of stand-up desks is certainly a known and available control for sedentary related illnesses, but the issue of cost is also relevant. A control should be implemented unless the cost is not grossly disproportionate to the risk.|
You can also take into account the fact that there may be other controls you have in place. Therefore, an employer must balance the cost of providing the stand-up desks to everybody with the severity of the risk of harm. In many cases the cost will outweigh the benefits, particularly given that it would be difficult to show a direct link between a failure to provide a stand-up desk and the development of chronic disease. There would be a lot of other causes as well.
On the other hand, if there is a specific medical requirement for a worker with, say, an existing back or neck injury that may worsen without a stand-up desk, then the employer may be obliged to consider providing a stand-up desk to that worker. This would be necessary in order to avoid a potential disability discrimination claim if the existing injury is sufficiently serious to constitute a disability.
In that case, unless there would be unjustifiable hardship to the business in providing the desk, there is a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments and provide the desk.
In any event, it may be prudent to provide a stand-up desk any way so to avoid a workers’ compensation claim for the aggravation of the back or neck injury.
Overall, if your organisation is looking into protecting the health and welfare of staff, then stand-up desks may prove to be a relatively modest investment for increasing productivity and health of your workforce.
What else didn’t you know about Health & Safety?
Perhaps, while reading this article, you realised there was much you didn’t know about the legal requirements of providing a safe workplace for your employees? The Health & Safety Handbook is a regularly updated, user-friendly A–Z guide to workplace health and safety. Its aim is to translate complex policy and legal information into clear, readable language and to help you find practical solutions to any safety issues you might face in your workplace.
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The Health and Safety Handbook covers all the bases when it comes to managing the safety of your workplace. You’ll learn how to write legal health and safety policies, protect your employees from fall risks, manage workplace bullies, recognise safety hazards without leaving your desk (even while standing) and pass a WorkSafe inspection with flying colours.
Take an obligation-free trial of the Health & Safety Handbook to see how the information it contains is designed to simplify your business.
Warm regards,Michael Selinger
Editor–in–ChiefHealth & Safety Handbook
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