We tend to think about workplace injuries in connection with jobs involving physical labor, but that isn't always the case. While it's true that many on-the-job injuries occur in workers with physical responsibilities, recent research released by the University of Sydney found that office workers are also at a surprisingly high risk of injury and illness.
"The problem is nearly everything can be done at the desk now - communication, library research, file retrieval, even meetings," said Dr. Karin Griffiths, lead author of the study. "It doesn't matter how good the chair is, it is not going to address the health problem of what some researchers are calling 'chair disease'."
In the study, researchers surveyed approximately 1,000 workers from six different government departments. Among their findings: employees who reported the most hours working on the computer also reported the highest rate of musculoskeletal injuries. 85% of employees who spent over eight hours a day at the computer experienced neck pain, while 75% suffered from shoulder pain and 70% reported lower back pain. What's more, these workers were also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Those in senior and managerial jobs proved to be especially vulnerable, the study found, because they were the most likely to spend extended time at the computer.
In addition, modern developments in workplace design appear to do little in the way of prevention. Office employees who reported the use of ergonomic chairs, standing desks and good posture were just as likely to suffer medical problems. "Workstation design has come a long way since the '80s and they are good changes," Dr. Griffiths said. "But what I also found was the proportion of people reporting symptoms has not changed much despite this, which means workstation design is not enough to keep up with health issues that arise from paperless, IT-dominated offices."
Medical research indicates that the problem isn't just sitting: it's that many of us sit wrong. Sitting places almost twice as much stress on the spine as standing does. Sitting and slouching - or leaning forward with your earlobes in front of your shoulders - is even worse. When employees spend extended hours hunched over a keyboard over a period of months or even years, the consequences can be even more painful.