Inactivity – including prolonged sitting at work – is associated with obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, but physically demanding jobs are also linked to increased health risks.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study published Jan. 12, 2018 in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report is the first of its kind to examine the prevalence of workplace exposure to two risk factors – frequent exertion and standing. For the study, researchers analyzed responses from 17,464 employed U.S. adults who participated in the National Health Interview Survey, Occupational Health Supplement, 2015.
The CDC study does not definitively answer the question: “Does frequent standing and/or exertion increase injury risk, including risk for developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)?” However, employers may gain useful insights from the study when conducting workplace ergonomic assessments and implementing injury prevention interventions in certain job categories.
According to the study, “repeated exposure to occupational ergonomic hazards, such as frequent exertion (e.g., repetitive bending or twisting) and frequent standing, can lead to injuries, most commonly musculoskeletal disorders.” For example, a systematic review of peer-reviewed articles on MSD symptoms and occupational standing found that standing is associated with low back pain.
However, CDC researchers also acknowledged that “associations with lower and upper extremity symptoms were inconclusive” in literature reviews and that “more research is needed to understand how to balance time spent sitting and standing while at work.”
Causality is an important variable when developing and using evidence-based clinical guidelines for the treatment of work-related injuries. Scientifically proven cause-and-effect relationships are also a key factor in determining compensability in workers’ compensation cases.
While sedentary jobs are becoming more prevalent, about two thirds of U.S. adults surveyed said they frequently stand at work. Among additional findings:
- In 20 industry groups, the highest prevalence of both frequent exertion and frequent standing at work occurred in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (71 percent); construction (67 percent); and accommodation and food services (58 percent).
- In 22 major occupation groups, the highest prevalence of both frequent exertion and frequent standing at work were in construction and extraction trades (77 percent); farming, fishing and forestry (75.5 percent); and building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (74 percent).
- The food preparation and serving-related occupation group (97 percent) had the highest prevalence of frequent standing.
- The computer and mathematical occupation group had the lowest prevalence of both frequent exertion and frequent standing (4.6 percent), while education and protective services workers experienced high prevalence of frequent standing and low prevalence of frequent exertion.
- Rates of frequent exertion, frequent standing or both were highest among men, workers aged 18 to 29 years, people of Hispanic origin and employees with less than a high school diploma.
For related resources, refer to National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health educational materials on ergonomics and MSDs.
Did You Know?
Healthy People 2020, the nation’s population health management guide, has an objective to “reduce rates of injury and illness cases involving days away from work due to overexertion and repetitive motion” by at least 10 percent.