By: Atty. Emma Ruby J. Aguilar, Associate
Workers who have to spend long hours sitting at work are at risk of having several health issues and concerns. Among others, sedentary workers can develop musculoskeletal disorders, high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, diabetes, and obesity. In fact, studies have shown that there is a direct relationship between time spent in sitting and the risk of early death. These workers, more commonly referred as “Desk Workers” are usually involved in computer, administrative, and clerical works, or in highly-mechanized establishments, in the fields of transportation, toll booths, information technology and business process management, and all other processes and industries where sedentary work is observed.
In line with this, Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Secretary Silvestre H. Bello III issued Department Order No. 184, Series of 2017 (DO 184-17) last October 18, 2017, with the title “Safety and Health Measures for Workers Who, By the Nature of their Work, Have to Spend Long Hours Sitting.” This was issued pursuant to his authority under Article 168 of the Labor Code, as renumbered, to set and enforce mandatory occupational safety and heath standards in all workplaces in order to eliminate health risks, and to ensure safe and healthful working conditions in places of employment.
Under DO 184-17, all employers and/or establishments are directed to institute appropriate control measures to address risks to safety and health of workers who spend long hours sitting at work.
These measures shall include, among others, the following:
First, by providing workers with regular five-minute breaks every two hours from sitting time;
Second, by encouraging workers to reduce sedentary work by interrupting sitting time and substituting it with standing and walking;
Third, by ensuring that the workstation is designed appropriately for the type of work;
Fourth, by changing work systems, e.g. providing sit-stand workstations or properly designed workstations that would facilitate easy mobility of workers, and conducting standard meetings;
Fifth, by redesigning work tasks, if possible, to enable greater variability in movement or posture;
Sixth, by organizing health promotion activities that will allow workers to do more physical activities after work, such as calisthenics, dance lessons and such familiar activities;
Seventh, by conducting awareness raising on the health effects of prolonged sitting and sedentary work; and
Eighth, by conducting surveillance among workers who are at risk of getting the deleterious health effects of prolonged sitting and sedentary work.
The above-mentioned control measures are not exclusive. The employers, as a matter of fact, may adopt other measures after consultation with its workers.
It is worthy to add that DO 184-17 was issued as a complementary to the earlier order, Department Order No. 178 Series of 2017 (DO 178-17), entitled “Safety and Health Measures for Workers who by the Nature of their Work Have to Stand at Work.” On this side of the coin, DO-178-17 will apply to workers, who by their nature of their work, have to stand for long periods at work, or are frequently required to walk, such as retail and/or service employees, assembly line workers, teachers, and security personnel.
In this Order, employers are also directed to institute measures, which shall include:
- Implementation of rest period to break or cut the time spent on standing or walking;
- Installation of appropriate flooring or mats that will mitigate the impact of frequent walking and prevent fatigue, such as wood or rubber floorings;
- Provision of tables or work surfaces with adjustable heights to allow workers to alternately sit and stand while performing their tasks;
- Provision of readily accessible seats to be used during rest periods or even during working hours, provided the employees can perform their duties in this position without detriment to efficiency; and
- Implementation of the use of footwear which is practical and comfortable.
As to compliance with the order, DO 184-17 mandates the covered employers or establishments to notify DOLE, through the Regional Office which has jurisdiction over the workplace, of the adoption of the safety and health measures as required herein.
The said order , however, does not provide for any penalty in case the employers will not institute the appropriate control measures in the work-environment. Apparently, this is not a penal law providing imprisonment in case of violation or non-compliance with the same. It is good to know, however, that DOLE, through its Regional Offices, is mandated to inspect and monitor the proper and strict implementation of DO 184-17.
Consequently, while employers may not be imprisoned for their non-compliance, their failure to adopt appropriate control measures to address risks to safety and health of workers who spend long hours sitting at work may warrant the issuance of an Order of Compliance during the inspection by the DOLE of their work premises and practices.
Evidently, we can see that DOLE is faithful and committed with its goal in eliminating health risks and in ensuring safe and healthful working conditions in places of employment. By recognizing that truly “Health is Wealth”, we can expect more mandatory workplace policies from the labor department in the next months to come.