Why matting?

Millions of workers spend the majority of the working day on their feet and many hours in static positions. Standing uses 20% more energy than sitting and because human bodies are not designed to stand at work, prolonged standing can lead to tiredness, loss of concentration and increased health risks. These risks include the swelling of feet and legs, feet and joint damage, varicose veins, heart and circulatory disorders, lower back problems and pregnancy complications.

How does prolonged standing affect the body?

Blood is circulated through cyclic muscle contractions. When the muscles are keeping the person standing through one long muscle contraction they are put under strain and cannot pump the blood back to the heart efficiently.

The first symptoms of prolonged standing are commonly tiredness, discomfort and fatigue to the legs. The feet are then most likely to become affected: the foot is made up of bones, joints, nerves, tendons, muscles and connective tissue. If these body tissues are stressed through prolonged standing they can become swollen which in turn can lead to chronic inflammation causing scar tissue to form and changes in the bone structure to occur. For example, fallen arches, spurs, bunions, corns and an over-stretched Achilles tendon can happen.

Symptoms of prolonged standing can spread to the shins, calves, knees, upper legs, hips and lower back and the neck is also possible. Prolonged standing is also linked to an increased risk of varicose veins, heart problems, stroke and problems in pregnancy.

Walking has a natural muscle-pump action, which improves blood flow. However continual walking, especially on hard surfaces, can be detrimental to the bones of the foot as the heel lands on the floor with a force of between one and a half and two times the person's body weight. Some jobs require constant walking which can also put increased strain on joints and muscles.

Some reported health effects

European studies report that between one third and a half of all workers spend more than 4 hours a day on their feet, either standing or walking, with the largest proportion of these workers being in the manufacturing and service industries.

Muscle fatigue can occur as both standing and walking require constant muscle work, however across many service and retail industries standing at work is commonly considered to be an essential part of good customer service.

In the UK more than 11 million workers, half the UK workforce, could be facing health risks caused by prolonged standing. Britain's Trade Union Congress (TUC) is actively encouraging employers to take steps to improve the health of its employees by overcoming the widespread problems associated with standing at work. 'Standing problems', a feature in the TUC backed health and safety magazine, Hazards (www.hazards.org/standing) warns that people spending most of the day on their feet on every working day are at greater risk of health problems.

The UK's Health & Safety Executive's (HSE) latest estimates of the extent of occupational ill health in the UK, show that musculoskeletal disorders are the most common cause of work related ill health, and that 17% of these disorders affect the lower limbs. The HSE figures suggest 192,000 people in the UK are suffering occupational lower limb disorders caused or made worse by their work and that lower limb disorders led to 2.2 million lost working days in 2003/04.

Varicose veins are a common condition in the United States affecting 15% of men and up to 25% of women. The Mayo Clinic reports that standing for long periods of time can effect blood flow and sites it as one of the risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing the disorder.

A 12 year prospective study of the Danish population (by the Department of Surveillance and Epidemiology, National Institute of Occupational Health, Copenhagen) concludes that prolonged standing at work constitutes an excess risk of hospital treatment due to varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases in people of working age.

Static work postures are one of the main risk factors for low back injuries say Spine Universe, an Internet-based network, which informs about the causes and treatment of back and neck pain. According to the website, www.spineuniverse.com when we stand, the pressure on the intervertebral discs of the lower back is fairly low, much lower in fact than when we sit on unsupportive seats. And, according to figures from the US's Bureau of Labor Statistics, each year over 880,000 cases of back injuries account for 1 in 4 non-fatal occupational injuries involving days away from work.

How can prolonged standing affect the employer?

Missed deadlines, impaired performance levels, increased risk of employee-related accidents, employee absences due to sick leave, increased over-time, the need to employ temporary staff, downturn in productivity, downturn in profits.

In addition, employers have a duty to do all that is reasonably possible to protect the health and safety of their workers.

Finding a solution
Providing sufficient seating and rest breaks, which allow people to move around, is best practice but when workers must inevitably stand at their job, installing high performance, specially designed anti-fatigue matting can help reduce fatigue and minimize health risks whilst making standing at work more comfortable and also more productive.

Concrete is generally the worst surface to stand on. According to the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers Inc., padding on the floor will reduce the adverse effects of working on the feet but some types of padding are better than others; the current most effective kind being anti-fatigue matting. They also report that anti slip mats, and other regular mats, should not be mistaken for anti-fatigue mats. They should however still be designed for slippery environments, should not slide on the floor and have sloped edges so that they are not a trip hazard.

The TUC's Hazards magazine also reports that hard, concrete floors are about the worst possible surface and suggest that concrete or metal floors can be covered with mats. It says that thick foam mats may not be the best as too much cushioning can cause fatigue and increase the risk of tripping. Anti-fatigue matting can be used wherever workers have to stand for long periods. Such mats should be easy to clean and have sloped edges so that they don't become a trip hazard and they should be replace regularly.

The TUC initiative advocates sitting for all or part of the time at work and, when this is not possible, offers advice on how to minimize the health risks including the use of high performance mattings with an appropriate degree or underfoot cushioning. Hazards magazine also summarizes: "If all or part of a job requires standing and everything has been done to reduce the amount of time spent on your feet, it is possible to minimize the risks through improved workstation design, job design and flooring, anti-fatigue mats and personal protective equipment (PPE)".

Proven under test conditions

Vynagrip anti-fatigue matting is designed to reduce leg strain and the effect on muscles that can be experienced after only one hour of standing on concrete. During an eight-hour working period, this can have an enormously beneficial impact on the wellbeing, morale and productivity of the workforce. Cushioning and thermal properties also make Vynagrip warmer and more comfortable to stand on for sustained periods.

As long ago as 1997, Plastex Extruders commissioned what are believed to be Europe's first, in-depth scientific research of its kind. These scientific tests have proved the successful, anti-fatigue properties of Vynagrip following a year of research at the University of Hertfordshire.

Under test conditions, comparisons were made when a large number of volunteers taking part in mental and physical tasks were standing on either a hard floor surface or Vynagrip matting. *Published results show that employees standing for sustained periods are significantly less fatigued when standing on Vynagrip. These results confirm that using Vynagrip can improve comfort for employees, boost overall productivity and, as a result, boost profitability.