I have taken note of a lot of media headlines recently that seek to portray “sitting” as the new “smoking”. I read alarming statements such as: sitting kills more people than smoking; sitting increases your risk of getting cancer, heart disease, diabetes, depression; and that sitting increases your risk of developing chronic back and neck pain. When you read the articles you realise that the reporters mean “long periods of sitting without breaks” and that a lot of the statistics mentioned are derived from research of sedentary habits and inactivity generally rather than sitting specifically.

In South Africa, the Occupational Health & Safety Act has no legislative guidelines dealing with workstation “sitting”. The Compensation Commissioner has however flagged the issue due to the costs incurred under the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act. This allows the Compensation Commissioner to fine employers via their contribution to the fund if found negligent. Positively though, the Compensation Commissioner can levy a reduced rate to employers that establish measures to mitigate their employees’ risk of workstation based injuries. This need not be prohibitively expensive with easily implemented interventions such as: providing an employee with a pamphlet on workstation setup basics (Desk ergo handout); raising/lowering screens; and providing footrests or document holders being very cost effective. Providing an adequate chair, correctly setup, while being more expensive will go a long way to ensuring a happier, healthier and more productive employee.

As an individual and/or an employee you can contribute to reducing your risk by: working at your desk for less than 30 minutes at a time; never remaining at your desk for more than 90 minutes at a time; and not working at your desk for more than 12 hours in a day. It is further recommended that you: take a 5 minute stand/walk break for every 30 min of sitting; perform desk stretches and exercises; park your car as far from the office/shops as is reasonable and walk; use the stairs instead of lifts and escalators; stand/walk on the spot while on the telephone; use a Fitbit or similar device to monitor your daily activity and set goals (research strongly suggests that increasing your awareness changes your behaviour); and use an app such as Stretchclock that reminds you to take a regular break.