The Victorian Government has kicked off a three-year, $600,000 project to trial workstations and business activities that reduce “prolonged sitting” among office workers.
Some 160 height-adjustable workstations will be deployed in up to 16 Federal Human Services call centres across the state in one of five “large-scale pilot interventions” by health promotion agency, VicHealth.
The Federal Department of Human Services – comprising Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency – was selected to participate in the VicHealth trial through a tender process last year.
During the next 18 months, some 160 workers will receive height-adjustable workstations and be encouraged to take up “interventions” such as standing at their workstations, and standing or walking during meetings.
A further 160 workers will act as a control group that will undergo the same health checks and surveys as their standing colleagues while using existing systems and practices.
Research leader David Dunstan of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute said the trial aimed to establish evidence that could support future VicHealth initiatives and lead to a wider roll-out of height-adjustable workstations.
Workers would be encouraged to adopt the new “intervention” behaviours for three months during the trial, and monitored for an additional nine months after that to assess the sustainability of the program.
Dunstan noted that height-adjustable workstations were used at CommInsure, the Macquarie Group in Sydney and Commonwealth agency Comcare in Melbourne and Canberra.
But the institute lacked pre-rollout data to evaluate the health impact of height-adjustable workstations in those organisations, he said.
According to a Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute report, released by VicHealth this week (pdf), prolonged sitting was linked to premature death, diabetes and risk of cardiovascular disease.
Office workers typically spent 75 percent of work hours sitting down, Dunstan reported, and health impacts of prolonged sitting affected even those who exercised in their leisure time.
VicHealth blamed an increase in workplace sitting on the “widespread availability of computers”. Populations at most risk included office workers, drivers in the transportation industry, and highly mechanised trades, it said.
“It is estimated that office-based employees spend around 80,000 hours seated in the course of their working life,” Dunstan wrote.
“Based on the high risk of exposure to prolonged sitting in office-based settings combined with the high proportion of the Victorian workforce being based in offices, office-based settings are a priority for interventions to reduce workplace sitting.”