Improving the workplace to support prolonged standing

Businesses can implement solutions to mitigate the risk of fatigue

Improving the workplace to support prolonged standing
Fatigue has negative business implications, costing employers an estimated $330 million annually in lost productivity.
Candice Raynsford

Workers who stand for prolonged periods of time in industries such as construction, food service, facility maintenance and healthcare can experience negative health effects, including pain and fatigue. These impacts are widespread, with nearly 30 per cent of Canadian workers reporting being fatigued most days or every day during a work week.[1] Fatigue also has negative business implications, costing employers an estimated $330 million annually in lost productivity.[2]

Fortunately, organizations can make workplace improvements to support employee health and wellness in these types of professions. By implementing solutions that reduce the adverse effects of extended standing, businesses can enhance worker health and safety and mitigate the risk of fatigue.

Hazards of Standing for Extended Lengths of Time

Standing for lengthy periods to perform work takes a toll on employee health and safety, creating the potential for physical illness and injuries. It also affects cognitive ability, leading to further risk of injury and reduced productivity.

  • Physical pain and fatigue. Prolonged standing can cause sore feet, legs, knees or hips.[3] Additionally, it can lead to swelling of the legs, neck and shoulder stiffness, varicose veins and lower back pain. Standing for extended periods on a firm surface can also cause worker fatigue, which in turn can trigger headaches and increase susceptibility to illness.[4]
  • Increased risk of injury. Another consequence of fatigue is reduced mental and physical functioning.[5] Fatigued workers have slower reaction times, which can lead to injuries and accidents. Diminished mental capacity from fatigue can increase the risk of trips, slips and falls in facilities. These injuries can result in time away from work, workers’ compensation claims and potentially even fines from regulatory bodies.
  • Decreased productivity. The mental and physical symptoms of fatigue also reduce decision-making ability, communication skills, productivity or performance, memory and ability to handle stress on the job.[6] When workers stand for hours at a time, they are susceptible to decreased mental functioning and will likely underperform. Presenteeism, the lost productivity that occurs when employees are not functioning at peak performance, can result in plummeting profits.

Reducing Pain, Fatigue and Other Injuries

Although the risks of prolonged standing are many, organizations have several tools at their disposal to combat these effects and protect the health and safety of staff.

  • Change standing positions. Shifting body positions improves blood supply to the working muscles, distributes effort between body parts, decreases strain on individual muscles and reduces overall fatigue.[7] To realize these benefits, employers can organize the workplace so that employees have opportunities to change positions frequently. Possible methods include having an optional seat or footrest to increase the variety of body positions available for standing workers. Facilities can also make sure that workers have enough room in their work areas to move around and shift weight frequently.[8]
  • Encourage proper footwear. Another way to mitigate the effects of prolonged standing is by wearing the right shoes. Poorly fitting shoes can cause foot aches, blisters and calluses and lead to sprained or twisted ankles.[9] Conversely, shoes with adequate arch and heel support and cushioning can help ease the pain of standing for extended lengths of time. Companies can encourage employees to wear shoes with thick, insulating soles and shock-absorbing insoles to help alleviate discomfort. Additionally, employees should verify that footwear is fitted correctly, gripping the heel firmly and allowing freedom of movement for the toes.[10]
  • Choose softer flooring. The type of flooring in a facility is a major factor influencing the impact of continued standing. The least comfortable floors to work on are hard and unyielding, such as concrete. The impact of walking on these floors is comparable to pounding a hammer into the heel at every step.[11] Floor materials with some elasticity, such as wood, cork, carpeting or rubber, are gentler for feet and mitigate the risk of fatigue, slippery floors and other hazards.[12]
  • Install anti-fatigue mats. When changing the floor material is not practical, employers can consider anti-fatigue mats to help alleviate discomfort. Air domes in anti-fatigue mats absorb the shock of hard floors and provide comfort for legs, feet and backs to reduce pain and fatigue from prolonged standing. These mats are ideal to place where workers stand in one spot for multiple hours, including customer service, registration and checkout counters, reception desks, workstations and more. While some mats can lead to trips and falls when installed incorrectly, others are designed with a dual gripper system on the bottom to minimize mat movement and a beveled edge to prevent mat curling.

Enhancing Worker Morale and Productivity

In addition to impacting worker health and safety, on-the-job injuries can cost employers money from lost work hours. Fatigue can also cause workers to make mistakes, cut corners or put others in harm’s way. To prevent the negative effects of standing for hours at a time, employers can implement solutions that improve the workplace and benefit employee morale, including appropriate footwear and anti-fatigue mats. Many of these safeguards are relatively easy and affordable to put into practice, and can have a noticeable positive impact on the bottom line and the wellbeing of workers.