Working standing up

Standing is a natural human posture and by itself poses no particular health hazard. However, working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems. These are common complaints among salespeople, machine operators, assembly-line workers and many others whose jobs require prolonged standing.

There is no single, ideal body position for working. Constant sitting is not the safe alternative to constant standing, in fact prolonged sitting is pretty bad for you too.  The best position is a variety of positions - that is to have the option to sit, stand, move around and vary the nature of work tasks.  It is important for the worker to be able to equally distribute loads on different parts of the body, with no physical strain.

Advice for OHS Reps

If workers in your DWG are standing for long periods of time, then as the OHS rep you can raise this issue with your employer (or employer's representative) to negotiate changes to improve the job and workplace design, and therefore reduce the risk to those workers.  Remember that under Section 21 of the OHS Act, the employer has a duty to provide safe and healthy systems of work, and to ensure that the workplace itself is safe and without risks to health.

There are two essential principles of good workplace design:

  1. No working posture is so good that it can be maintained for any length of time without variation; and
  2. No two individuals are alike, so the workstation has to be adapted to the individuals using it.

The Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) says key objectives of union negotiations should be to:

  • Reduce the time spent standing or walking
  • Obtain suitable, adjustable chairs
  • Negotiate more rest breaks
  • Alternate standing and walking with sitting
  • Make work surfaces height-adjustable.

The TUC gives the following advice:

Workstation design 
Possible workstation adaptations can include:

  • Adjustable height work surface. If the work surface is not adjustable, install a platform to raise a shorter worker and a pedestal to raise the work piece for a taller worker;
  • room for workers to change body positions;
  • a foot-rail or footrest enabling workers to shift weight from one leg to the other;
  • elbow supports for precision work;
  • padded kneeler in front of workers allowing them to kneel slightly forward while performing tasks in front of them;
  • choice to work sitting or standing at will (sit/stand stool);
  • a seat for resting if standing is unavoidable.

Job design
Basic principles of good job design for standing work include:

  • Provision for worker training on proper work practices and use of rest breaks;
  • job rotation among a group of workers;
  • job enlargement to give workers more and varied tasks to increase body positions and motions;
  • avoidance of extreme bending, stretching and twisting;
  • work paced appropriately; and
  • frequent rest breaks.

Other matters you should also look into include flooring surfaces, anti-fatigue matting, personal protective equipment (ie footwear).

What are the effects of standing for long periods?

Major health problems 
Standing most of the working day every working day is not good news for the lower limbs - it can damage joints, make muscles ache and cause problems with the feet ranging from bunions and corns, to heel spurs and flat feet.

The most commonly reported symptoms appear to be discomfort, fatigue and swelling in the legs. Workers required to spend too much time on their feet are at greatly increased risk of pain and discomfort affecting feet, shins and calves, knees, thighs, hips and lower pack.

Circulatory problems
There is strong evidence linking prolonged standing at work to an increased risk of heart problems and stroke.  Researchers have linked prolonged standing to an increased risk of carotid atherosclerosis, which in turn can cause an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Standing symptoms 
(from the TUC report)

  • painful feet and legs
  • welling in feet and legs
  • bunions/corns
  • heel problems, including plantar fasciitis/heel spurs
  • Achilles tendonitis
  • varicose veins
  • orthopaedic changes to the feet, including flat feet
  • low back pain
  • restricted blood flow
  • immobilisation/locking of joints
  • arthritis in knees and hips
  • stiffness in neck and shoulders
  • problems in pregnancy and birth defects
  • high blood pressure
  • heart and circulatory problems  

See Also

  • From the UK's TUC and published in  Hazards magazine, a major report on Standing at work that gives extensive information on the health effects of standing for long periods and advice on how to reduce the risk, including looking at workstation and job design, flooring, matting, and so on.  There is also advice for pregnant workers.  A recent TUC guide for health and safety reps Working feet and footwear [pdf] states that workers should be able to wear the footwear that is appropriate to their occupation, working environment, and feet.

  • From Canada's Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, an OSH Answer Working in a Standing Position

  • For advice on proper seating see Officewise - A guide to health and safety in the office and also Ergonomics and manual handling - a guide to good seating [pdf] (from the Northern Territory)

This information is based on material from the TUC Report and the CCOSH