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How safe are so-called 'active workstations' for employees?

It's no secret that employers are constantly looking for ways to cut costs. However, their methods of doing so have become considerably more advanced over the past decade. For instance, many employers have now turned to so called "active workstations" after seeing how conditions like obesity are driving up their costs and reducing overall productivity.

For those unfamiliar with "active workstations," they include everything from exercise balls that act as substitutes for regular desk chairs to treadmill desks in which the actual workspace is suspended above the deck of the machine and employees walk in place while working.

While employers may think these active workstations are saving them time and money, this might not actually be the case. In fact, some studies have even suggested that they may be causing serious work injuries.

In 2011, the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System -- which is run by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and designed to track product-related harm -- found that 37 percent of all exercise-equipment accidents were comprised of treadmill injuries ranging from foot lacerations to knee sprains.

Furthermore, online communities whose members are comprised of workers using treadmill desks have voiced concerns about everything from painful shocks caused by static buildup to Achilles tendon pain.

As for exercise balls, a 2009 study by Dutch researchers in Applied Ergonomics concluded that while they did stimulate 33 percent more trunk motion in employees, they also caused significant spinal shrinkage.

As if this isn't shocking enough, other ergonomic experts have indicated that exercise balls frequently become underinflated and that employees can suffer significant lower back pain as a result.

"It was a terrific idea, but it really just didn't work because they really were not very safe," said one health management consultant of a client company that decided to drop the use of exercise balls due to innumerable employees falls and, ironically, rising workers' compensation costs.

Here's hoping that more employers are able to recognize that employee safety always comes first.

Please visit our workers' compensation page to learn more about your rights and your options in the event of a serious work injury.

Source: The Wall Street Journal Market Watch, "Is your ergonomic desk trying to kill you?" Jen Wieczner, Jan. 29, 2013

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