CSIRO sedentary study
Sedentary workstyle threatens health

The future of work will be increasingly sedentary, leading to increased chronic illness caused by lack of exercise. Unless you ride to work.

The dire prediction about our future unhealthy working life comes from a new report from CSIRO looking at megatrends in work health, safety and workers compensation.

The amount of daily screen time has grown for both adults and children and there is a continued drift away from manual jobs towards sedentary jobs, the report, titled Workplace Safety Futures, says.

As a result, rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic illnesses will continue to rise.

Not mentioned by the CSIRO, but highly relevant, is the additional, cumulative effect of sedentary lifetyles outside or work—basically anything that involves sitting: watching TV, hanging out on Facebook, watching other people exercise (sports) and driving to work.

Riding to work or education is just about the only slot left open for exercise.

"Information communication technology and enabled platforms are reshaping workforces and working environments all over the world,” CSIRO says.

"Sensory systems, artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, online platforms, predictive analytics, confidential computing, the internet of things, big data and other digital technologies will transform economic activity, governance models and lifestyles over the coming decades.”

These changes are seen to pose challenges for workplace health and safety regulations that place obligations on employers to prevent injury and illness arising out of the conduct of business.

The report says sedentary lifestyles and extended screen time are associated with increased risk of diabetes, obesity, heart and cardiovascular disease, poor posture and premature mortality.

In the move from manual to service jobs, we exercise less.

White-collar occupations are often the most sedentary, associated with higher risks to health. Being seated is often necessary in order to use computers, which are used by most white-collar workers.

White-collar professionals, managers and clerical/ administrative workers sit down for at least 22 hours per week, far exceeding the average sitting times for most blue-collar occupations.

"Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures suggest adults engage in sedentary activities for 39 hours per week on average, including both work and leisure, and Medibank estimates that Australians are sedentary for 77 percent of the working day.

"With the widespread automation of manual-labour jobs comes an increase in sedentary and screen-oriented work. This can lead to higher rates of obesity which is one of the factors which can increase a worker’s risk of musculoskeletal injuries."

"Workers’ compensation claims from older people also spike as the Australian workforce ages and more people move into the age brackets at greatest risk of injury.”

Not mentioned by CSIRO is that these sedentary factors currently apply to the large proportion of Australians that get to work by car today. They are already suffering from chronic diseases caused by lack of physical activity; we don’t have to wait for the future to arrive to discover that.

It is time for employers and legislators to realise that our workforce can get get the daily dose of exercise required for good health by riding all or part of the way to work each day.

All we need is a good bicycle network to get them there and back.

Click here to see CSIRO's Workplace Safety Futures report.