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Written by
on 11 October 2017


The British economy is increasingly service driven, which means that more of us are spending the working day sat at a desk. Although many people will assume that office jobs are safer than working on a construction site, there are serious occupational risks here too.

The fact is that sitting at a computer all day increases the risks of developing long-term illnesses. According to research published by America’s National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability:

  • People who do little or no exercise have an increased risk of developing colon and breast cancer. They are also 40% less likely to survive a cancer diagnosis.
  • Physical inactivity increases insulin resistance, the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes.
  • People who sit down all day have the highest rates of heart attacks.
  • Regular physical activity helps reduce the risk of cognitive decline. One study reported that there was a 50% reduction in the risk of dementia in older persons who maintained regular bouts of physical activity.
  • Depression and inactivity are directly linked. The less exercise a person takes, the more likely they are to experience mood swings and clinical depression.
  • People in sedentary jobs are more likely to gain excess weight.
  • Sitting down all day reduces the efficiency of the immune system, making workers more susceptible to disease and illnesses such as colds and the flu.
  • Lack of physical activity increases the loss of lean muscle tissue, making even basic tasks like dressing and bathing more difficult.

Another study found that men who spent more than 23 hours a week seated had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than their active counterparts who performed less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity. Exercise is still a crucial activity in the service-driven economy.

Bad for workers, bad for business

By being permanently seated, office workers are destroying their long-term health, storing up major problems for the future. As an employer, this should be extremely concerning – ill employees cannot perform to the best of their ability, and are much more likely to take time off work. These absences affect productivity, and ultimately your profit margins.

With the modern focus on occupational health, businesses need to address the sedentary workplace to protect workers. Just 30 minutes of exercise every day can help to reduce the risks outlined above – but free/subsidised gym memberships for employees probably won’t have the desired effect. Not everyone wants to go to the gym.

Far more effective (and productive) will be to find ways to incorporate exercise into the workers’ daily routines. By simply encouraging workers to move around the office more, or to use the stairs instead of the lift, they can be “tricked” into exercising, without using the ‘e’ word.

[Tweet “The reality is that your business must act to save workers from their own health-destroying habits in the office.”] Otherwise, we may be about to witness a serious epidemic of occupational disease, perhaps on the same scale and severity as asbestosis.

For more advice on how to get the sedentary workplace moving, or about assessing these dangers as part of your risk assessments please get in touch.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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