Why the need for extra consideration and training for sit-stand workstations
Although sit-stand workstations have been around for several years their popularity has only recently grown. This has been primarily due to research on the negative effects of prolonged sitting which has been labeled “Sitting Disease”. To combat sitting disease in an office/computer work environment employers and employees should modify the work environment and tasks to allow for a reduction in the amount of time spent sitting and increase the amount of time spent standing and/or walking—hence the upsurge in demand for and use of sit-stand computer workstations. Sit-stand workstations are a great tool to fight sitting disease and empower employees to take greater control over their health and wellness at work. They allow employees to alternate their posture between sitting and standing throughout their workday. So now you might be thinking that all one has to do is buy (or if you’re handy make) a sit-stand workstation and start using it, right? Well, not so fast. There are certain things that must be taken into consideration in order for the individual to have a successful transition from a sitting only to a sit-stand workstation.
Is sit-stand appropriate for the employee?
There are two questions that need to be asked before pursuing a sit-stand workstation:
- Does the employee want to stand while working?
- Does the employee have any medical history or problem that would be negatively impacted by standing?
As an ergonomist I’ve seen and assessed numerous office workstations over the years. My first rule when it comes to any workstation change is to ask if they really want to change this part of their workstation or switch that part, etc. In the case of a sit-stand workstation the first question that must be asked is if s/he wants the option of standing at work? If s/he says no then I would advise not pursuing it. Sit-stand workstations require some amount of financial investment so the last thing I want to do is have the employer purchase products that will not be used at all or not used as much as intended. After all there are other means of increasing activity at work besides having a sit-stand workstation. Based upon my experience the percentage of people who answer the question “no” is about 25%. So that leaves 75% who say they do want to be able to stand while working which brings us to the second question and an important follow up to the first question which asks them about any medical conditions that could be affected by standing. This question is used as a brief screening tool to assess the individual’s health and medical condition and does not require any specific documentation. As we all know, just because someone says they want to do something doesn’t always mean they should. There are a few medical conditions that may prohibit or raise a caution flag for the use of a sit-stand workstation. Medical conditions that may prohibit or limit the amount of time a person can spend standing can include a history of lower extremity problems such as venous insufficiency, swelling, arthritis/degenerative joint disease or heart conditions. For example, I had one case where an employee stated she had bunion surgery a few years back and since that time has never been able to stand very long at one time. Despite this she still wanted to try a sit-stand workstation. We went ahead and installed one but the expectations and instructions for standing were very different from the person who has no medical issues. She reported loved the fact that she could alter her posture whenever she wanted and ended up being able to increase her standing time to 2 hours over the course of the day.
Sit-Stand Workstation Options
There are many types of sit-stand workstation options on the market; unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” option. Companies may want to standardize on a single sit-stand workstation option; however, that isn’t realistic because all of them, except one, have certain limitations which precludes universal usage. Below are the four most common options for of sit-stand workstations and a brief of their pros and cons:
|Two work surfaces—one at sitting height and one at standing height||Typically very little cost as long as no new desk/work space is needed; work surface heights are set to the exact need of the person
|User must move computer from one work surface to the other; may require duplicate computers or laptop; if laptop note that it has issues of its own that must be addressed; requires workspace where two surfaces can be at different heights|
|Sit-stand keyboard tray and adjustable monitor arm||Moderate cost (~ $500 for both items); uses existing work surface; easy to adjust||Sit-stand keyboard trays typical total height range is 12-14”–~5” below desk surface and 8” above desk surface. The typical height range between sitting and standing elbow height is ≥15” so this product fits a very limited population; only keyboard/monitor raise and lower; no elevated writing surface|
|Sit-stand unit that attaches to current desk surface||Moderate cost (~500); uses existing work surface; easy to adjust||Height ranges for the keyboard and monitor are limited; distance between monitor and a person’s eyes are fixed—may be too close for some users; straight keyboard/mouse surface only—no “mouse forward design”; keyboard angle adjustability is limited or nonexistent; only keyboard/monitor raise and lower (optional writing surface available)|
|Desk surface raises and lowers (requires adjustable height base)||Entire desk raises and lowers; fits all heights||Highest cost option (≥$1,000); electric units take time to raise/lower, may be noisy, can’t be used in power outages|
By now you’ve determined that the employee wants a sit-stand workstation, s/he has no obvious medical issues with standing and you’ve determined and installed the appropriate option. So now you’re employee is “good to go” and no more needs to be done, right? Well, you could be but I would highly recommend going one step further to ensure the employee has complete success with the sit-stand workstation. This one step is what I call “Sit-Stand Training” in which the user is instruction how, when and how long to sit and stand. At first glance it sounds ridiculous. After all who doesn’t know how to stand? Why does a person need to be trained how to stand? Well, I agree it is simple but not always straight forward and common sense. A person who has sat at their desk all day and then starts standing all day is going to develop discomfort issues. Creating workers’ compensation claims by adding sit-stand workstations is the last thing an employer or employee wants. So to prevent these or any related issues to sit-stand workstations a quick Sit-Stand Training session is warranted. Similar to starting any new activity there is somewhat of a learning curve and training period the body and mind have to go through. This training involves providing the user guidelines of how to stand, i.e. learn which standing postures are comfortable and which have the potential to cause problems; when to stand, i.e. how long to they wait before switching postures; and how long to stand, i.e. list suggested length of time spent standing at one period for weeks 1-4. Then build in a process where each sit-stand workstation user is followed up at specific time periods thereafter to confirm everything is going well. This will catch any issues that were hidden initially that can creep up as time passes.
Based upon the current research the goal is to increase the amount of time spent standing per day by 2 hours. Experience has shown me that on average, a person will be able to increase the amount of time that they spend working while standing to 2-6 hours/day.
Sit-stand workstations are becoming more and more commonplace in the office setting. They are a great option to increase employee activity while keeping them productive at their workstation. Despite this, caution should be used before rolling out and implementing sit-stand workstations in the workplace. They aren’t for everyone nor does every option fit everyone. Therefore each individual should be assessed for the need and fit for a sit-stand workstation followed by training and monitoring after installation. This could easily become a part of a company’s existing ergonomics, health & wellness and/or risk management program. Sit-stand workstations offer benefits to employers and employees alike. Employers benefit by increases in employee job satisfaction, health & wellness and productivity. Employees benefit by being able to have control over their posture, general feeling of greater well-being and improved productivity.
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