Medical condition: should you provide sit-stand desk?

Medical condition: should you provide sit-stand desk?

By Gaby Grammeno on 16 October 2018 Are we required to supply a sit-stand station if an employee provides a medical certificate saying it is necessary?

This question was recently sent to our Ask an Expert service.

Q Can you please advise if an employer is obligated to provide sit-stand desks at the workplace? We currently do this on the basis that a medical certificate indicates it is a requirement, but this is becoming a cost issue and we are starting to re-think whether an employee is actually fit for the role?

A There is no specific mention of sit-stand desks in work health and safety legislation, so there is no explicit legal obligation for the employer to provide them. However, it is expected that employers will take whatever steps are reasonably practicable to accommodate the needs of an injured worker, to help ease them back to their normal duties.

‘Reasonably practicable’ is defined in the WHS Act to mean ‘reasonably able to be done', taking into account and weighing up all relevant matters including:

(a)  the likelihood of the hazard or the risk concerned occurring
(b)  the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or the risk, and
(c)  what the person concerned knows, or ought reasonably to know, about:
(i)  the hazard or the risk, and
(ii)  ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, and
(d)  the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk, and
(e)  after assessing the extent of the risk and the available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, the cost associated with available ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, including whether the cost is grossly disproportionate to the risk.

Cost is therefore a factor that can be taken into account in determining whether it is reasonably practicable for the business to provide sit-stand desks, but this should be considered only after assessing other possible ways to eliminate or minimise the risk of exacerbating a person’s pain or injury.

In the context of an injury or condition for which a medical certificate might specify that the person requires a sit-stand desk, it seems that what the injured person needs is variation in posture, so that they are not sitting or standing for long periods, but can alternate between sitting and standing.

An expensive sit-stand desk is not the only way of ensuring that a person can vary their posture and alternate between sitting and standing. Depending on the needs of the business, and in discussion with the staff member affected, it may be possible to identify a range of duties that the person could undertake in order to vary their posture. For example, duties that would require them to stand up (after a period of sitting) and walk to another part of the workplace in order to carry out some other task, at regular intervals throughout the day.

If the work involves using a computer, it may be possible to procure an inexpensive fitting (such as a box) to which the keyboard could be transferred to raise its height such that it would be at the right level for a person who is standing, provided that the screen is positioned at a level where it can still be comfortably seen. The options for devising alternative solutions depend entirely on the type of work undertaken and the scope for innovative approaches, but it may well be that alternative ways of eliminating or minimising the risk could be found.

The advice of an ergonomist may be of great assistance in such a situation.
 

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