Weighing In on Stand-Up Workstations and Exercise Balls

Stand-up workstations and exercise balls used for sitting in place of an office chair are gaining popularity. This has been fueled by reports of workers at Google, Facebook and other companies trading in their chairs to stand, or bounce, while working. They cite studies of the harm that hours of sitting can do.

Even here at the RIMS office several employees prefer sitting (or bouncing) on exercise balls to the familiar rolling desk chair, or working at a stand-up desk. Risk professionals have long been discussing the merits and downsides of these two popular choices.

But are these alternative ergonomic preferences really that beneficial?

Recently in an online discussion, some members of the RIMS Opis community said they were not in favor of exercise balls as ergonomic solutions. A risk manager in Oregon stated it bluntly: “Exercise balls should be limited to fitness programs. Your [workers comp] will own the injury if an employee slips off the ball and hits [his or her] head or has a soft tissue injury from the fall.” Several other commenters agreed that the balls are unstable and their use is discouraged or officially prohibited.

A CEO said: “While great for encouraging engagement of your core muscles during exercise, [balls] are not good for sitting at a workstation and in fact, research shows, increase your risk of ergonomic injury.”

In fact, some research has found their benefits negligible. A study of 28 subjects found that exercise or chair balls offer no advantages over a traditional workplace chair. According to a study by BioMed Central:

Results:

The results showed no significant difference with regard to spinal curvature between seating types. Initial sitting curvature was found to increase significantly over 30 minutes in both the desk chair and stability ball. In addition the results of the usability questionnaire showed a significant difference in three of the eight questions, in favor of the desk chair.

Conclusion:

No benefits were found through sitting on a stability ball over that of a desk chair in prolonged sitting as both seating types were found to replicate a poor sitting position through a kyphosed [outwardly curved spine] and slumped posture. The clinical implications of this study serve to benefit any healthcare professional considering use of the stability ball as a replacement desk chair.

In another online comment, a Missouri risk manager suggested a compromise, elaborating that while his organization allows their use, “They cannot be free-standing balls… they must be part of a chair ball with wheels and a seat backing.”

Stand-up desks received more positive feedback. Several risk professionals cited research equating excessive sitting and sedentary lifestyles with serious chronic health problems. A number of commenters shared anecdotes about how stand-up workstations have helped employee health issues. Several users noted that in their newly renovated, or soon-to-be-renovated, offices, stand-up workstations are de rigueur.

Who pays for these workstations? Most who commented said, or implied, that their companies foot the bill for stand-up desks if an employee requests them. Most seem willing to make the investment based on reports that providing ergonomic options can reduce workers comp claims.

Not all are sold on the benefits, however. A commenter from Chicago said, “As odd as it sounds, stand-up desks may not be wholly safe…. People get tired and fall down using them. And there is no confirmation standing is less stressful than sitting. Folks very quickly started to complain of sore hips, knees, feet and spines.”

A Virginia risk manager shared the wisdom of moderation and the middle ground, saying, “While sitting is bad—and the motive for getting a standing desk—standing all day can cause myriad lower back, leg and feet issues. It would be similar to what risk managers at grocery stores have to deal with their cashiers on their feet all day. Interspersing standing with sitting is key.”

Some researchers agree with this conclusion. A New York Times article reported that 15 minutes per hour at a standing workstation is recommended over standing all day.

Fed Program Initiates Life-Saving Training for Shootings, Terror Attacks

The length of time victims wounded in school shootings and terror attacks must wait for help from an EMT could be minutes or hours—during which time they could bleed to death. This has happened in a number of cases, including a shooting at an Orlando nightclub in June, when a woman bled to death while waiting for help to arrive.

These incidents have prompted the Department of Homeland Security’s Stop the Bleed campaign, a nationwide initiative to empower individuals to act quickly and save lives in emergency situations. Bystanders are asked to take simple steps to keep an injured person alive until medical care is available. Security guards, custodians, teachers and administrators are being trained at schools and other places to administer first aid until help arrives.

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Stony Brook University Hospital’s trauma center is spearheading training for school districts and colleges across the country. According to the Associated Press:

At a recent training session, paramedics and doctors brought in fake body parts—blood spurting from the wounds—to show staffers of a Long Island school district how to tie tourniquets and pack open wounds with whatever they have.

“Seconds matter. It really can be minutes when you can lose your life,” said Dr. James Vosswinkel, the chief of trauma and emergency surgery at Stony Brook University Hospital, who led the training.

Doctors emphasized that in the critical seconds after an attack it’s important for teachers and other school staff to stay calm and begin assessing injuries. Teachers learned to apply tourniquets in case a student is shot in the arms or legs—using T-shirts or belts, if necessary—and to stick anything they can to pack wounds in the torso.

Stony Brook doctors have reached out to local schools to offer the training, but are looking to expand the program as part of a federal Department of Homeland Security initiative to other schools, colleges and police departments across the country.

“Nobody should die from preventable hemorrhage,” Vosswinkel said.

OSHA Releases Updated Workplace Safety and Health Voluntary Practices

To help medium and smaller-size businesses initiate effective safety and health programs, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration today released Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs, an update of its 1989 guidelines, reflecting changes in the economy, workplaces, and evolving safety and health issues. The recommendations feature a new section on multi-employer workplaces and a greater emphasis on continuous improvement, OSHA said.

“Since OSHA’s original guidelines were published more than 25 years ago, employers and employees have gained a lot of experience in how to use safety and health programs to systematically prevent injuries and illnesses in the workplace,” Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health said in a statement. “We know that working together to implement these programs will help prevent injuries and illnesses, and also make businesses more sustainable.”
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The recommendations include seven core elements for a safety and health program:

• Management leadership
• Worker participation
• Hazard identification and assessment
• Hazard prevention and control
• Education and training
• Program evaluation and improvement
• Communication and coordination for host employers, contractors and staffing agencies

Implementing recommended practices brings benefits to businesses that include healthier employees, fewer injuries and, ultimately, lower workers compensation costs:

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  • Preventing workplace injuries and illnesses
  • Improving compliance with laws and regulations
  • Reducing costs, including reductions in workers compensation premiums
  • Engaging workers
  • Enhancing their social responsibility goals
  • Increasing productivity and enhancing overall business operations

Because management leadership is an important part of the equation, OSHA recommends that business owners, managers, and supervisors:

  • Make worker safety and health a core organizational value.
  • Be fully committed to eliminating hazards, protecting workers, and continuously improving workplace safety and health.
  • Provide sufficient resources to implement and maintain the safety and health program.
  • Visibly demonstrate and communicate their safety and health commitment to workers and others.
  • Set an example through their own actions.

To establish a program, OSHA said organizations need to create a written policy signed by top management that describes the organization’s commitment to safety and health. By creating specific goals and objectives, management sets expectations for the company’s managers, supervisors and workers. The goals and objectives should focus on specific actions that will improve workplace safety and health, OSHA said.

Positive Workforce Drug Tests Reach 10-Year High

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An analysis of 11 million workforce drug tests reveals a 10-year high in positive test results, with an increase of 4%, according to the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index (DTI). Post-accident positivity increased 6.2% in 2015, compared to 2014, and has jumped 30% since 2011.

The report found that amphetamine positivity increased 44% and marijuana positivity increased 26% since 2011; and that nearly half (45%) of individuals in the general U.S. workforce with a positive drug test for any substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana use.

Heroin positivity in that period increased 146%. The oxycodone positivity rate has declined annually since 2011, confirming previous research showing that opioid prescriptions have declined in 49 states since 2012, Quest said.

“The DTI statistics for the last five years underscore the threat to employers—and employees—from drug abusers in our workplace. The numbers on hair testing—the methodology with the longest look-back and therefore a more telling measurement of regular use—show a 34% positive-rate increase for illegal drug use by the general workforce in the last five years,” Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, said in a statement. “However, all the numbers for various testing methodologies confirm this disturbing trend and should provide a wake-up call to employers to do more to combat workplace substance abuse and to do it more effectively.”

Barry Sample, senior director of science and technology at Quest Diagnostics, noted:

  • The percentage of employees in the combined U.S. workforce testing positive for drugs has steadily increased over the last three years to a 10-year high of 4.0%.
  • According to analysis of urine drug test results, the rate of amphetamine, marijuana, and heroin detection has increased annually for the past five years.
  • Positivity rates for post-accident urine drug testing are rising in both the general U.S. and federally-mandated, safety-sensitive workforces; rates have increased 30% and 22%, respectively, since 2011.
  • Almost half (45%) of individuals in the general U.S. workforce with a positive drug test for any substance in 2015 showed evidence of marijuana.
  • Heroin positivity, indicated by the presence of the 6-AM marker, increased 146 percent between 2011 and 2015 in the general U.S. workforce.
  • The overall positivity rate for oral fluid testing increased 47% over the last three years in the general U.S. workforce—equating to almost one in 11 job applicants who are unable to pass an oral fluid drug screen.
  • Overall positivity in the general U.S. workforce was highest in hair drug tests, at 10.3% in 2015, a 7% increase over the previous year.