Adapting working posture (sitting, standing, sit-standing rotations) is a common topic in ergonomics research and practice. Adapting working posture is an excellent example of the need for a systemic ergonomics approach. For example, posture changes begin with physical adaptations, but must also consider productivity and employee engagement.
While there has been a lot of research on physical outcomes associated with working posture, mechanisms of discomfort and injury within various postures are still not fully understood. For example, sitting work results in less discomfort and risk of peripheral vascular disorder in the lower limb, but has been associated with increased risk of developing obesity, metabolic and cardiovascular disorders [1-3], as well increased risk of developing upper limb musculoskeletal disorders [4-5]. Meanwhile, standing work facilitates upper limb movements and is less sedentary than seated work, but standing is associated with the development of discomfort and vascular disorders in the lower limb [6-9]. Seated and standing work each has positives and negatives, and it seems that varying posture between sitting and standing might be better than constantly using one position. However, we must do work to quantify the proper time frame for rotations of sitting and standing to prevent onset of vascular and musculoskeletal mechanisms of discomfort and injury. Providing data on which outcomes are affected by each posture and the timing of changes in these outcomes are part of an ongoing research project at McGill University.
Adapting working posture must also consider the tasks the employee is performing. For example, in a job that requires larger reach envelopes to attain tools and product, sitting postures will reduce mobility of the lower limb and trunk and increase the strain on upper limb musculature. Similarly, standing work might be comfortable for an employee, but work surface and associated tools might also require adaptation to ensure the employee maintains stability and vision during tasks.
While physical outcomes might help provide the basis and scientific rationale for sitting, standing and postural rotation, ergonomists would have to carefully observe the work tasks to understand the intricate components of those skills. Facilitating the work and maintaining performance is critical to ensuring adapted postures and postural rotation is acceptable to the employee and employer. The company might also need to redesign the workplace to accommodate new equipment, or perhaps even redesign flow of production flow, employee and client interaction to promote postural rotation and movement within a work day.
Changes to posture, postural rotation and associated changes to the work environment will be useless without sufficient buy-in from employees. The employees need to understand the goals associated with adapting posture and work space; otherwise, they may resist shifting from a traditional workstation design they have grown accustomed to. Employee can be engaged through training and education related to the adaptation. This can help them understand the rationale and benefits of postural rotation/adaptation and associated changes. However, the more engaged the employees are in the project the greater the chances of acceptance and successful implementation.
Involving the employees in the investigation and design phases of a postural adaptation project, using a participatory ergonomics or health promotion approach, would better engage employees. Furthermore, the employees are an invaluable resource to help you understand the work processes and industrial context.
In this post we attempted to demonstrate the mulitfactored issues of adapting working posture. These topics require greater depth of discussion, and we hope to revisit them in future posts. This is an example of a topic where ergonomics professionals would benefit from partnerships with employees and health promotion advocates to develop and implement changes.
Sit-standing rotations have also become popular in office work stations. We hope to review how this would impact on office work contexts in an upcoming post.
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1. Castillo-Retamal, M. and E.A. Hinckson, Measuring physical activity and sedentary behaviour at work: A review. Work-a Journal of Prevention Assessment & Rehabilitation, 2011. 40(4): p. 345-357.
2. Choi, B., et al., Sedentary Work, Low Physical Job Demand, and Obesity in US Workers. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 2010. 53(11): p. 1088-1101.
3. Gilson, N.D., et al., Occupational sitting time: employee’s perceptions of health risks and intervention strategies. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 2011. 22(1): p. 38-43.
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6. Tuchsen, F., et al., Prolonged standing at work and hospitalisation due to varicose veins: a 12 year prospective study of the Danish population. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2005. 62(12): p. 847-850.
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8. Sudol-Szopinska, I., et al., Prevalence of Chronic Venous Disorders Among Employees Working in Prolonged Sitting and Standing Postures. International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics, 2011. 17(2): p. 165-173.
9. Messing, K., F. Tissot, and S. Stock, Distal lower-extremity pain and work postures in the Quebec population. American Journal of Public Health, 2008. 98(4): p. 705-713.