Sitting too much at work can be deadly

We all know that regular exercise is an important part of staying healthy, but studies show that it might not be enough to stave off many health issues if you spend most of your day sitting.

Research findings published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine reveal that spending too much time sitting down means a greater risk of premature death. While the results echo previous study findings, this new probe focused on women aged 50-79 years.

Harvard Women’s Health Watch executive editor, Stephanie Watson, observed that the more hours women spent sitting at work, driving or on the sofa watching TV, the greater their odds of dying early from all causes, including heart disease and cancer.

“And here’s the kicker; even women who exercised regularly risked shortening their lifespan if most of their daily hours were sedentary ones,” she wrote in the Harvard Health Blog.

Study co-author, Dr JoAnn Manson, explained that older women spending too much time sitting, but also doing moderate to vigorous exercise, still faced a higher risk of an earlier death.

Closer to home, a study conducted by Medibank Private demonstrates that prolonged sitting is just as much an issue in Australia as in the United States. Conducted on 131 members of Medibank’s staff, they found that a startling 77 per cent of time spent at work is sedentary.

Work isn’t the only factor at play, either, with the majority (62 per cent) of a non-work day also spent sedentary.

Clearly the study results sound warning bells, not just for mature women, but for people with deskbound jobs who spend too much leisure time in couch potato mode.

Here are some simple steps you can take to avoid sedentary behaviour at work:

  • Walk to colleagues to talk instead of phoning or emailing.
  • Take a short walk around the office every hour.
  • Walk around the neighbourhood at lunch instead of eating at your desk.
  • Use a bathroom/printer/kitchen/bin that is further away, forcing you to walk more.
  • Use the stairs instead of a lift.
  • Walk or ride to work if possible, or stand up on public transport.
  • Park further away from work than necessary.

For other tips on staying healthy at work visit the NSW Government’s Get Healthy at Work website.

Case study: people and forklifts

AAA Trading & Transport employs eight drivers and delivers many types of freight in a range of vehicles, from one-tonne to 20-tonne trucks, from taut liners to rigid-side vehicles.

In this case, the truck driver was collecting a load at Global Freight, a depot used by numerous freight companies. The freight was loaded onto the truck with a forklift, driven by a worker who was employed by a third company, DC Australia Pty Ltd.

What is the problem?

When the forklift driver finished loading pallets of freight onto the truck he asked the truck driver to sign for the load. The forklift driver did not follow standard procedures and drove away without realising the truck driver had his foot under the back wheel of the forklift. The forklift rolled over the truck driver’s foot causing a crush injury.

The following factors contributed to the incident:

• Policies and procedures concerning traffic management in the warehouse and pedestrian safety in a loading/unloading zone were not strictly followed
• the forklift driver and truck driver did not have systems in place to separate pedestrians and forklifts.

What was done to solve the problem?

Global Freight was proactive in redesigning work systems and introduced some low cost measures to improve safety, notably:

• Truck drivers were allocated an office away from the warehouse traffic zones, where they could complete their paperwork once the job was done
• pedestrian walkways were clearly marked with yellow lines and signs were erected to guide drivers and pedestrians safely through the workplace
• a three-metre distance rule was implemented to separate pedestrians from moving plant
• ‘Toolbox talks’ were given to all warehouse workers, highlighting the need for safety in the loading area
• visiting drivers were instructed on new traffic management and loading/unloading procedures.

Business benefits
Safe work practices, such as line marking in traffic areas and separating pedestrians, drivers and moving plant, mean fewer accidents where forklifts and pedestrians are in the same area.

The median cost of a workers compensation claim in this industry is $3500. When an accident happens, it costs a business at least 10 times the cost of the claim in lost productivity, property damage, replacement costs and working days lost.
For a business involved in this incident, the cost of the injury may have been in the order of $35,000.

Key outcomes
This incident occurred as Global Freight was in the process of putting in place safer work practices. If a business recognises the need to improve safety, they should take action immediately. Even temporary measures can help, until final solutions are put in place.

Further information
For more information about work health and safety in the road freight transport industry, call 13 10 50 or visit the road freight transport section of our website.