Physiotherapists have been counting the cost of poor posture to business, and it’s much higher than you would imagine.
When Apple CEO Tim Cook said “sitting is the new smoking”, he had a point. Sitting behind a desk all day at work has become incredibly normalised. With everything on your computer just a touch of a button away, standing up and moving around has become almost obsolete. The convenience of remaining sedentary has outweighed the health benefits of moving – but what does that mean for businesses?
In New Zealand $3.5 billion dollars a year is lost due to workplace injuries and disease, according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), with injuries to muscles and joints in the body making up a large part of those costs.
When an employee becomes injured and goes on leave, the costs for employers include wages, investigation into the incident, damage to the workplace, finding and training a replacement worker, and decreased productivity.
For employees, the cost includes the stress of not being able to do their job properly (or at all), discomfort, pain and injury. And let’s not forget about the everyday costs such as not being able to pick up your children or play sports, or even just sit comfortably to watch television.
Workplace injuries can occur from more than just wet floors and unsteady shelves – they extend to the long-term physical implications of poor posture while working.
Remember how your mother always told you to sit up straight? Well, it turns out she was right. The effects of poor posture are associated with a wide variety of health problems, including back and neck pain, poor respiratory and digestive function, as well as low mood, self-confidence and concentration.
Research has shown that prolonged sitting, in combination with poor posture, increases the likelihood of lower back pain, while some studies have found that up to a staggering 80 percent of us will suffer from lower back pain at some point in our lives.
Other work-related muscle injuries include Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS), which both result from repetitive movement in the muscles, causing strain. Computer usage can trigger these conditions, with things like repetitive use of a mouse creating a heavy load for the small muscles of the lower arm and hand.
Many larger businesses have implemented wellness programmes as a way of reducing overall healthcare costs. However, the costs that come with them, such as programme costs and time and staff, are often a barrier for small businesses.
Software solution Prometheus was developed in response to the growing need of preventing posture-related injuries. By using an ordinary webcam to monitor posture as people work, Prometheus can help small businesses to optimize health by prompting employees to take regular breaks from sitting, and alerting them if they slip into poor posture habits for too long. It produces customised reports on posture and breaks to show progress, and these quantifiable results mean that reward points are able to be calculated from the reports generated.
This means businesses can then provide incentives to employees for improving their health, or they can just be used as a way of helping motivate employees to continue to be engaged in improving their overall health.
Prometheus can be integrated seamlessly as part of a comprehensive wellness programme or can easily be used as a stand-alone health and wellness application.
Nikki Tse and Trevor Montgomery, the physiotherapists behind Prometheus, say providing an ergonomic office set-up or going from a sitting to a standing desk is not enough.
“You can have great ergonomic set-ups, but if employees sit or stand poorly at them they will still be prone to injury,” says Tse. Not only that, but ergonomic office furniture is expensive at approximately $1000–5000 per employee.
Tse says the key is to encourage employees to become more aware of looking after themselves when they’re at work, as good posture is vital to good health and well-being. “Sitting or standing, employees need to be in an ideal posture. The medical research tells us good posture is literally about being in a position that reduces the forces that go through the muscles, ligaments, bones and internal organs within your body to prevent injuries and pain, and often prolonged sitting doesn’t encourage good posture.”
Tse and Montgomery developed Prometheus to improve posture and help prevent the health problems associated with computer use and prolonged sitting. Rather than treating the symptoms of poor posture, it prevents it from occurring in the first place.
Return on investment
Promoting wellness through improving posture effectively means that employees are happier, healthier and more productive. As employees’ overall health improves and pain and injury are prevented, small businesses see returns on investment through improved employee engagement and productivity, and decreased absenteeism, healthcare and insurance costs. Injury-related costs can go down and save workplaces money in the long term, and businesses can more easily meet their legal requirement to protect employees from harm.
Workplace wellness doesn’t have to mean on-site gyms and in-house personal trainers. Small companies may be able to encourage healthy living and offer compelling perks to employees without spending a lot of money and time putting together a plan.
As with many health problems, the key is prevention, and for businesses there are affordable ways of ensuring that the debilitating effects of poor posture are prevented so that employees can become happier, healthier, and more engaged.
Article supplied by Prometheus. Nikki Tse is co-founder/director of Innovative Health Solutions.