Sedentary Work: Evidence on an emergent work health and safety issue


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Safe Work Australia’s emerging issues surveillance program identifies new priority issues which can affect workers’ health and safety, and undertakes and disseminates research to investigate these.  As part of this program, Safe Work Australia commissioned a team of academics led by Professor Leon Straker of Curtin University to examine the most recent evidence from Australia and overseas on sedentary work, its likely consequences and the potential control options.

The issue

Much media attention recently has been paid to the levels of sedentary behaviour in Australia and its potential harmful effects.  This report focusses on sedentary behaviour in the workplace – not just among office workers, but also in the manufacturing, transport and storage, construction, agriculture forestry and fishing, and health and community services sectors.

Key findings

The report considers how we can define ‘occupational’ sitting, its potential health outcomes, how much occupational sitting might be harmful, and what can be done to prevent or reduce harm to workers.

Occupational exposure can account for half of the total sitting exposure for Australian workers – 81% reported some occupational sitting, and one half of workers reported sitting often or all of the time at work – but there is no clear definition of what level of occupational sitting is ‘excessive’.

The report includes suggestions for reducing the total amount of time workers spend sitting, how it can be broken up by other activity, and some things workers can do while sitting to reduce the harmful effects of sitting for too long.

The report also considers commonly-suggested alternatives like standing desks, walking and desk-based cycling, ‘active commuting’ and being active during non-productive breaks at work, and evaluates how effective these really are.

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The work environment
Sedentary work
Sitting and standing