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Sedentary Work

Prolonged sitting poses significant risks to the health of workers and to the organisations they work for. Sedentary behaviours involve sitting or reclining, resulting in little or no physical activity energy expenditure. As working Australians spend most of their adult life in the workplace, it is a key setting to measure and implement changes and reducing sedentary behaviour. Many workers spend 76 per cent of their time sitting—or approximately six hours per day.


Sedentary behaviours are a known risk factor for cancer, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and early death. Other risks from prolonged sitting include:

  • People who sit for 11 hours or more a day are 40 per cent more likely to die within three years than those who sit for less than four hours.1
  • The risk of heart disease is increased by 50 per cent even if exercise is performed regularly.
  • There is an increased risk of physical injuries if a worker maintains a static posture.
  • The risk of colon cancer is doubled in people who perform highly sedentary work.


Remedies for reducing sedentary work are dependent on the context and conditions, but may include:

  • where possible, review and revise job and task design to minimise sitting time for sedentary workers
  • vary work tasks throughout the day so that there is a change in posture and different types of muscles are used—or alternate between sitting and standing by finding a reading area that allows standing for example
  • ensure a standing-friendly culture is promoted and supported—for example, have a regular 'standing' agenda item and encourage staff to stand during meetings
  • use a height adjustable desk so workers can work either standing or sitting
  • encourage managers to role model standing behaviours and regular movement
  • use iMails—walk over and talk instead of sending emails to colleagues
  • use a bathroom that is further away
  • use the stairs instead of the lift
  • encourage workers to eat lunch away from their desk.


Information Source Contents
Vic HealthVicHealth has recently released the final report on an implementation trial entitled Reducing prolonged sitting. Sitting time was reduced substantially at work, with an average reduction of 1.7 hours per 8-hour work day after three months and one hour after 12 months. Sitting time was also reduced across the workers’ overall day by an average of 1.2 hours demonstrating an overall beneficial change in behaviour even outside work.
SWASafe Work Australia recently published a literature review of sedentary work undertaken by Curtin University. The publication Sedentary Work – Summary of the Literature Review Evidence on an Emergent Work Health and Safety Issue shows that prolonged unbroken sitting time is associated with a range of health problems including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature mortality.

Australian Government (ComLaw)

The Code of Practice – How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks provides practical guidance for persons who have duties under the WHS Act and Regulations to manage risks to health and safety
Vic Health This video has been produced as part of VicHealth's Creating Healthy Workplaces program to demonstrate the health impacts of prolonged sitting in the workplace, and provides practical strategies workplaces can adopt to improve the health and wellbeing of their workers.
Medibank The Stand Up Australia 'Sedentary behaviour in workers' study by Medibank Australia investigates sitting time in various groups of working adults to characterise sedentary and physical activity patterns in staff from different working environments.
Vic Health The Reducing prolonged sitting in the workplace, evidence review report is part of the Creating Healthy Workplaces evidence review series.
Australian Broadcasting Corporation This Catalyst episode titled 'Sitting is Deadly'explores the research undertaken around the health impacts of prolonged sitting.
Department of Finance and Deregulation The Flexible and Efficient Workplace Design Guidance is a better practice guide designed to assist agencies to incorporate efficient and effective workplace design into their accommodation planning.
Comcare The Sedentary Work Practices toolkit is a collection of information, guidance materials and templates that can help workplaces to develop and apply an organisational strategy to reduce prolonged sitting in the workplace.
The Benefits of movement – Be Upstanding! act sheet provides an overview of the health risks associated with long periods of sitting, the benefits of regular movement and strategies that PCBUs and workers can implement to reduce sitting time at work
 The The business case for reducing sedentary work practices provides information and guidance for human resources and work health and safety managers. Its purpose is to help workplaces develop a business case for reducing sedentary practices in the workplace.


Information source Contents
Incident notification—Part 3, Section 35 to 37 of the Work, Health and Safety Act 2011 The legislative requirements for incident notification to Comcare.

Comcare—Guide to incident notification

Helps you decide whether you need to notify Comcare of an injury, illness or dangerous incident under the WHS Act.

[1]Van der Ploegg, H, Chey, T, Korda, R.J, Banks, E and Bauman, A 2012, 'Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk in 222 497 Australian Adults', Archives of Internal Medicine, 172(6), pp.494-500. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2174

Page last updated: 05 May 2017