Hazards of standing
There is a very detailed article about the personal injury risks of standing in the latest edition of the TUC Hazards magazine as part of a TUC campaign.
Workers who spend most of the working day on their feet are at risk of work-related varicose veins, poor circulation and swelling in the feet and legs, foot problems, joint damage, heart and circulatory problems and pregnancy difficulties.
A Hazards survey of UK union national safety officers for the report found widespread problems caused by standing at work.
Unions representing shopworkers, teachers, library staff, production line workers, warehouse staff, museum workers, school supervisors, train drivers, printers, hospitality and casino workers and engineers all reported standing-related health problems experienced by their members.
There are specific examples of:
- badly designed checkouts that require retail workers to stand with their feet fixed while twisting their upper bodies and moving goods. Shopworkers’ union Usdaw estimates that a checkout worker lifts up to two tonnes of goods in an average four-hour shift.
- Usdaw believes the failure to provide suitable seating is a breach of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations, and is seeking support from the local health and safety enforcement agency on the situation in one store in the north-west using new tills.
- lathe workers standing for long periods on concrete and wood leading to varicose veins
- The Amicus-GPM safety rep at Amcor Flexibles Colodense in Bristol found over half of his workmates were suffering from foot or knee problems, ranging from sore heels to aching, itchy feet. In a trial agreed with the union, workers were issued with cushioned insoles for their shoes. “The trial with the insoles they supplied has been encouraging and they should now be available to all,” he said.
- Our client, a Virgin Trains driver, was awarded £41,000 in disability discrimination damages at a June 2005 employment tribunal in Exeter. The ASLEF member claimed that, under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), the company should have done more to help him to return to light duties after a knee operation on injuries sustained in a rail crash in 2000.
The painful injury made it impossible for him to cope with prolonged standing and getting in and out of the cab. A representative from Thompsons who represented our client, said: “This is a positive approach by the employment tribunal exactly as envisaged by the disability legislation.” The tribunal took the unusual step of saying it would make recommendations in relation to the “adjustments” that Virgin should make under the DDA to allow our client to return to work.
Three senior managers at Virgin Cross Country Trains were ordered by the employment tribunal to attend training in disability rights law. It also ordered Virgin to pay our client his basic salary until he can either return to driving duties, is certified unfit for any duties or starts a suitable new job with Virgin.
The first priority is prevention, but “standing problem” recognises that standing cannot be avoided in all jobs and offers tips and advice on how to minimise the health risks through things like improved workstation design, flooring and personal protective equipment (PPE).
- The report offers the following advice to make jobs less of a standing problem.
Possible workstation adaptations include:
- adjustable height work surface. If the work surface is not adjustable, install a platform to raise a shorter worker and a pedestal to raise the work piece for a taller worker
- room for workers to change body positions
- a foot-rail or footrest enabling workers to shift weight from one leg to the other
- elbow supports for precision work
- padded kneeler in front of workers allowing them to kneel slightly forward while performing tasks in front of them
- choice to work sitting or standing at will (sit/stand stool) or a seat for resting if standing is unavoidable
Basic principles of good job design for standing work include:
- job rotation among a group of workers
- job enlargement to give workers more and varied tasks to increase body positions and motions
- avoidance of extreme bending, stretching and twisting
- work paced appropriately with frequent rest breaks
- Hard, concrete floors are about the worst possible surface.
- Materials that provide flexibility such as wood, cork, carpeting, or rubber are gentler on workers' feet.
- Concrete or metal floors can be covered with mats.
- Mats should have slanted edges to help prevent tripping.
- Machines should be mounted to reduce vibration through the floor. Thick foam-rubber mats should be avoided. Too much cushioning can cause fatigue and increase the risk of tripping.
Protective equipment (PPE)
The correct footwear is important. Footwear should not change the shape of the foot, have enough space to move toes, have shock absorbing cushioned insoles and heels no higher than 5cm (2 inches).