SAFE Work Australia (SWA) has called on employers and workers to find ways to reduce the amount of time they remain seated during the work day, citing recent findings about the harm it can do.

The group’s chief executive Michelle Baxter said research recently commissioned by SWA from Curtin University showed prolonged unbroken sitting time is associated with a range of health problems including musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, some cancers and premature mortality.

Compounding this, health problems caused by prolonged sitting remain even if one exercises vigorously every day, highlighting that excessive sitting and physical inactivity are separate health hazards, SWA said in an announcement.

The report shows that negative health effects from prolonged sitting are due to insufficient movement and muscle activity, low energy expenditure and a lack of changes in posture.

With one half of workers across a number of industries and occupations reporting that they are sitting often or for all of the time they are at work, Ms Baxter said the research shows that workers should aim to substitute sitting with standing or walking when possible.

“Sitting for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break, and sitting all day at work is likely to be detrimental to health,” said Ms Baxter.

“Early evidence suggests occupational interventions targeting sitting reduction can substantially reduce occupational sitting, at least in office workplaces.”

While there is no clear definition of excessive occupational sitting exposure, SWA said sitting for longer than 30 minutes without a mini-break and sitting all day at work (being “too busy” to take a break) are likely to be detrimental to health.

To date, assessment of occupational exposure has largely been focussed on office work environments, with limited evidence for exposure or interventions in non-office environments.

Sedentary work may occur in office-based occupations as well as other occupations that may have less scope for changed postures, such as call centre staff, crane operators and truck drivers.

In its study, SWA said interventions targeting multiple elements of work systems had been most successful in finding ways to reduce prolonged sitting at work – using substitution and breaks to minimise harm.

Simple interventions can interrupt prolonged occupational sitting by substituting sitting with non-sedentary tasks, such as switching to work on a computer at a standing workstation, standing to read a document, having a standing or walking meeting, standing while talking on the phone, or walking to deliver a message to a colleague rather than emailing.

“In essence, employers and workers should aim for small and frequent changes from sitting as much as possible and less time sitting in total,” SWA said.