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Can Sedentary Workers Suffer Work Injuries?

SedentaryOffice workers and other sedentary workers do not have to lift or carry heavy materials and rarely consider the possibility of injuries. Generally,when considering the class of worker who is especially prone to injury, it is not uncommon for lineman, railroad employees, construction workers and the like to come to mind.  Sedentary workers are those whose job duties involve lifting no more than ten pounds at a time and occasionally carrying articles, walking, and standing.  This means that most secretaries, dispatchers, and truck drivers are considered sedentary workers.  Additionally, many injured workers whose normal jobs are physically demanding find themselves doing sedentary work while recovering from an injury because it is all their doctor has cleared them to do.  Whatever the case may be, sedentary workers and are at high risk for a myriad of health problems.

Most Americans Start Their Day with Seated Commute

sedentSedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950 and physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of America’s workforce. Just 50 years ago, about half of America’s workforce was physically active.  Today’s modern worker wakes up and gets in their car and sits through a long commute. Then the worker enters their office and sits at a desk with a computer for eight hours before returning to sit in their car for another long commute. In the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the average commute is around 25 minutes but as you move westward to McHenry County, the commute increases by at least 5 minutes each way.

What Injuries May A Sedentary Worker Incur?

The frequent bouts of inactivity leave sedentary workers vulnerable to health problems which can affect them for the rest of their working lives and well into retirement.  Spending too much time sitting or being inactive has been linked to

  • an increased risk of heart disease,
  • diabetes,
  • metabolic syndrome,
  • obesity,
  • DVT, and
  • anxiety.

The negative results of sedentary jobs are felt by employers and employees alike.  A sedentary employee who suffers from any of these ailments may use more sick days, require time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), show a decrease in work quality or productivity, and may even become injured on the job as a result of their already deteriorating medical condition.

The Reason People Buy Standing DesksShort of up and finding another job, there are plenty of things that a sedentary worker can do to be more active while at work and decrease the risk of negative health effects.  The easiest way to counter sedentary work is simply to stand up!  Even standing for 10 minutes per hour, per shift, adds an extra 6 hours of standing per week.  Standing burns twice as many calories as sitting and promotes healthy circulation.  There are also a number of stretches and low-impact exercises that can be done right at a desk and may even incorporate office furniture.  Treadmill desks or compact elliptical machines, although a bit pricey, are another excellent option for getting active in an office environment.

How Can An Employer Help a Sedentary Worker?

sedent2Sedentary workers may also consider talking to their employers about options to help get everyone moving outside of the workplace.  Employer-initiated health programs exist through many insurance companies and can often be modeled as a competition. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, for example, administers an online program called Walking Works which encourages individual employees or departments to log their daily steps and activities.  The numbers are then posted on the employer’s page which allows people to see where they rank and compete amongst one another.

What Should I Do to Stay Healthy?

Here are some other simple tips for maintaining optimal health in a sedentary workplace:

  • Avoid resting the telephone receiver between shoulder and ear; use a headset if possible
  • Keep the computer mouse close enough that the elbow remains close in to the body
  • Adjust the keyboard and/or chair height so that elbows can hang comfortably at the side of the body, the shoulders are in a relaxed position and the wrists are not bent up or down.
  • Keep both feet flat on the floor
  • Sit in an office chair with a relatively high and straight back rest

Both the long-term and short-term health effects of a sedentary work environment put employees and employers in an unfavorable position.  No employee wants to worry that they will work their whole lives only to retire and suffer from an excruciating leg condition.  No employer wants to receive a claim for workers compensation stemming from an injury that occurred because their employee was in poor health.  Having a body that is well taken care of is essential to the performance of every job and should be taken seriously.  Get active today!

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Ronald F. Wittmeyer, Jr. practices plaintiffs' personal injury law at his office in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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