Standing for Long Periods at Work – Health Issues & Employee Rights

Around half of UK employees are standing all day at work. In other words, more than 11 million people around the country stand for hours on end.

The effect on the nation’s health is serious. Standing for long periods causes or contributes to a variety of medical problems.

Industries Affected by Standing for Long Periods

Those employees who have to stand all day at work are often in lower-paid jobs. Among them are

  • Retail staff.
  • Assembly line workers.
  • Security staff.
  • Engineers.
  • Catering staff.
  • Library assistants.
  • Hair stylists.
  • Laboratory technicians.

Furthermore, some of these employees cannot walk to ease the strain on their muscles. They have to remain in place until they are due for a break or it’s time to go home. This can cause health problems for workers who have to spend a lot of time standing in one area as part of their duties.

Health Problems and Standing All Day at Work

Standing for long periods at work is bad for health because of the strain on the lower limbs. Problems include aching muscles; hazardous pressure on hip, knee and ankle joints; and damaged feet.

The problems with feet include corns and bunions. Standing can also lead to flat feet and heel spurs.

The symptoms people usually experience from spending a lot of time standing during work are lower limb swelling, tiredness and discomfort. Medical professionals also link standing to varicose veins and a condition known as chronic venous insufficiency (CVI). With CVI, veins cannot send enough blood to the heart.

Another serious condition associated with standing at work is coronary heart disease. Workers may not develop heart disease as a direct result of standing for long periods. But if they have an existing heart problem, standing for hours can make it worse.

Canadian studies make a further connection between ill health and standing. Back pain is twice as likely to occur in workers who stand for most of their working days rather than sit.

Other health issues related to standing include hip and knee arthritis, high blood pressure, and locking of joints.

UK Employment Law on Standing

The Workplace (Health and Safety) Regulations 1992 refer to standing. The law says that employers must supply suitable seats if workers are able to perform their duties, or a substantial part of them, sitting down.

No prosecution of an employer under this law has taken place. There have been five improvement notices served on employers. These notices have insisted upon seats for workers. All the employers complied. Compared with the number of employees who spend all day standing at work, this is a very low figure.

Employer’s Viewpoint of Standing at Work

Part of the reluctance to encourage workers to sit is down to the employers perception of how seated workers look to those visiting the business. Employers believe that staff who are standing create a better impression with customers.

In some instances, workers themselves may feel it’s rude to be sitting when dealing with members of the public. However, no one accuses professionals such as solicitors and doctors of being rude when they sit behind desks and see patients in their offices.

To make matters worse, health and safety researchers often fail to appreciate the damage standing causes. Professor Messing of the University of Quebec in Montreal is an expert in prolonged standing. She says researchers don’t take standing seriously because they work in an environment where they have the choice to stand, sit or walk away from their workstations. Many employees who stand all day don’t have this freedom.

Solutions to Prolonged Standing

Sitting down all the time at work is not a solution. Prolonged sitting also causes a range of health problems.

The best advice, endorsed by experts in the field, is to:

  • Cut the time workers spend standing or walking.
  • Arrange for work-surfaces to have adjustable heights so workers can alternate sitting and standing.
  • Arrange rest breaks with employers.
  • Ensure adjustable chairs are available.

These goals are not necessarily easy to put in practice. Employers may have to make significant changes to workstations. But the long-term benefits can offer a good return on investment. One estimate, for example, says the UK loses two million working days a year because of lower limb disorders.

The right flooring and footwear have roles to play as well. Hard concrete floors, a common feature in factories, are the worst of all surfaces to stand on for long periods. There is absolutely no flexibility to concrete. Carpeting, rubber, cork and wood are far better surfaces.

If these more suitable surfaces are impractical, anti-fatigue mats can help. These mats provide just the right amount of cushioning to make standing easier. They also have sloped edges to prevent trips.

Mats mustn’t be too soft, however. Soft mats can actually increase the feeling of tiredness in backs and legs.

As for footwear, this must be practical and comfortable. It should not pinch the feet or toes; insoles should be shock absorbing; and heels must be no higher than five centimetres.

Last Updated on 9 August 2021

4 thoughts on “Standing for Long Periods at Work – Health Issues & Employee Rights

  1. Rita Baker says:

    My partner is 63 standing at a till he’s doing a 5 hour shift today without a break although he walks around the store filling shelves when no customers are there my point is should he be entitled to a short break on this shift

    • Safe Workers says:

      Hi Rita, unfortunately entitlement to a break doesn’t kick in until a 6 hour shift is being worked. Many employers will tailor shift lengths to account for this to simplify their rotas.

  2. Gaynor camilleri says:

    I work 12 hr shifts. We were allowed stools, but a new manager took them off the floor. We work in concrete flooring no mats and no due care to employees.

  3. Orial says:

    My workplace consists of a marble floor. Concrete on Mohs hardness scale, is usually around a 3. Whereas Marble is the next stage up for hardness, registering in at 4. My employer does not care one little bit regarding this, becoming disgruntled when staff sit down for a few minutes to rest their entire body during the odd short lived lull. While it is great that these laws and guidance exist, actually implementing them is a whole different matter entirely.

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