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Get moving at work – tips and recommendations on preventing MSDs in the workplace

Our bodies need movement – avoiding static postures is part of making work sustainable both in offices and other workplaces. As many of us begin returning to work after the pandemic and the summer holidays, now is the perfect opportunity to adopt better workplace practices and routines to get moving.

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Sedentary behaviour is increasing both at work and outside of work, and there is mounting evidence for the ill health effects of sedentary lifestyles. They can lead to diabetes, heart and vascular diseases and a host of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Sedentary lifestyles have also been linked to depression and some cancers.

While there are no specific regulations governing prolonged sitting, all EU employers have general duties to carry out risk assessments and bring in preventive measures, and specific duties to provide workers with periodic breaks or changes of activity to reduce the time spent on a display screen at work. There are also many things employers can do to encourage workers to move more as well as small changes workers can make to improve their health.

Tips to get moving at work to prevent MSDs

Employers can encourage workers to move more by providing sit-stand desks, setting maximum sitting times and times for stretching or moving, introducing stretching in meetings, providing standing spaces in meeting rooms and cafeterias, providing cordless phones, or even just by placing bins and printers in central locations to encourage workers to get up from their desks.

Movement and exercise are an important part of tackling a sedentary lifestyle and an important MSD prevention measure. Investing in the health of workers can also bring business benefits such as reduced sickness absence, increased loyalty, improved working and better staff retention. There are a number of approaches employers can take to promote exercise:

  • Individual approach – talking to workers about health and exercise; handing out flyers; making active behaviour a part of performance reviews etc.;
  • Group approach – group activities, challenges and campaigns which can also contribute to team building, improving motivation, inspiration and productivity;
  • Participatory approach – including staff in the planning, design and monitoring of activities. Surveys can be a good way to start and get ideas.

Stretching is another easy way to keep moving, even while remaining at your desk, so that even during a meeting you can still be looking after your musculoskeletal health. We should always be thinking about working in an active manner, alternating between sitting, standing and walking.

A good place for employers and office workers to start a discussion on how to make a workplace more active is the Napo video ‘Moving Office’ which provides a fun and informative overview of some of the problems found in many offices – bad postures, poor ergonomics and a lack of movement overall.

Moving more at work is not just for office workers

While moving at work often focuses on office workers, the problem affects many other sectors – such as transport, industry and service jobs to name a few.

Factory work should allow workers to vary between sitting and standing and make time for movement. Microbreaks and task rotation are especially useful for those with particularly repetitive roles, which leads to pressure on key areas of the body. Some workplaces programme short communal stretching breaks into the work routine.

Supermarket workers may encounter prolonged sitting and prolonged standing. It is therefore important that they can swap between sitting and standing and are provided with suitable seating which is adjustable, stable and movable and given footrests.

For drivers it may be much harder to avoid prolonged sitting, yet there are steps that can be taken –  such as changing posture while driving; taking regular breaks to move around and do back stretches; and getting out of the vehicle to phone, text, take breaks, eat.

Whatever your job, changing posture as much as possible is the key to preventing MSDs. You should be able to adopt a variety of positions when working, preferably being able to vary between sitting, standing and moving around. To find out more about preventing MSDs and the effects of sedentary work, visit the priority area page on the campaign website and remember to follow the campaign on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.