18 Aug 2013
TREADMILL desks, standing conferences, walking meetings - welcome to the office of the future where sitting for extended periods is a new legal minefield.
Add a move to all phone calls being taken standing up plus chest-high computers and you have an office where upright is in.
The National Heart Foundation is lobbying business groups to systematically make regular low level standing activity a workplace requirement, armed with the warning they face a legal duty of care to workers on par with banning smoking from the workplace.
Steven Dolphin, chair of the Law Society of SA's Industrial Relations Committee, said companies were responsible for the health and safety of their employees at work and it was acknowledged a completely sedentary lifestyle was not good for health.
"If the medical evidence clearly establishes that being desk-bound at work poses a health and safety risk to workers, then employers would be obliged to take positive steps to address that risk," he said, adding employers were not responsible for exercise workers did in their own time.
National Heart Foundation (SA) acting chief executive Wendy Keech said research showed extended sitting was a separate risk factor from not getting enough daily physical activity.
Even people who went to the gym faced independent risk factors if they sat for prolonged periods.
"It is really interesting that being sedentary is a separate risk factor, so you might work out for an hour at the gym or other exercise but if you are sedentary for the rest of the day you have separate risks," she said.
"When moving from sitting to standing you engage muscle fibres and keep your body functioning at a higher metabolic rate. If you just sit you are a dead weight.
"Standing to talk on the phone, walking to a co-worker to relay a message instead of email, walking to a printer placed at the end of the room, it all helps."
Ms Keech uses an adjustable desk where she can sit or stand to work, similar desks are used in the Foundation's conference room and their phones have stickers encouraging people to stand whenever they take a call.
"It is the way of the future," she said. "Australians are now sitting up to 80 per cent of their day at work, as well as in their cars and watching TV, and now we know the health risks it is an occupational health and safety issue for corporations to address similar to smoking in the workplace."
For office workers who think they are in a rat race, the treadmill desk has arrived. Adelaide distributor Krishna Naidu said he was in discussion with several call centres as well as home office workers and had also sold them to families of children with hyperactivity issues.