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Frequent Exertion and Frequent Standing Among US Workers

Posted on by Taylor M. Shockey, MPH


Have you ever wondered if your job involves more standing, bending, or lifting than other jobs? Or if there are ways you could avoid injuries from these movements while on the job?

Last week, NIOSH published an article on frequent exertion and frequent standing among US workers by industry and occupation group. Using data from the Occupational Health Supplement (OHS) to 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), the article focused on currently employed adults who were asked the following two questions related to the physical activities of their current job:

  1. “How often does your job involve repeated lifting, pushing, pulling, or bending?” (exertion)
  2. “How often does your job involve standing or walking around?” (standing).

Responses to these two questions were categorized as either frequent exertion or standing (often/always responses) or infrequent exertion or standing (never/seldom/sometimes responses). A third variable was created to examine those respondents who reported both frequent exertion and frequent standing compared to those respondents who reported only one or neither.


What we found

We found that among 19 major industry groups, the highest prevalence estimates of both frequent exertion and frequent standing occurred within:

  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting (70.9%)
  • Construction (67.2%)
  • Accommodation (e.g. hotels) and food services (57.7%)

Among the 22 major occupation groups, the highest prevalence estimates of both frequent exertion and frequent standing occurred within:

    • Construction and extraction (76.9%)
    • Farming, forestry, and fishing (75.5%)
    • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance (74.0%)


Why This Matters

The first blog of a NIOSH series on musculoskeletal health-related research notes, that in order to reduce the burden of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), ergonomics programs and interventions are needed that are tailored to address the problems specific to various occupation groups. For example, nurses are more likely to injure their backs or necks when they lift and handle patients, while factory assemblers are more likely to overexert muscles in their hands as they work to put together small parts.

Identifying those industries and occupations with frequent exertion and frequent standing can guide prevention efforts to the most at-risk workers. Prior research is consistent with our results and has found that agricultural and construction work often requires heavy manual material handling, repetitive exertions, and awkward body postures. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, overexertion was the leading major event or exposure associated with occupational injuries, resulting in 33% of cases reported in 2015. While some studies suggest that frequent standing at work can cause low back pain and other lower extremity symptoms, more research is needed to understand fully the relationships between time spent standing, time spent sitting, and work-related MSDs. Understanding these relationships will help to improve prevention of work-related MSDs.


Resources for employers and employees to reduce MSD injuries

Check out the NIOSH topic page Ergonomics and Musculoskeletal Disorders for ergonomics programs, guidelines, and demonstrations of effective workplace practices.

Check out the Elements of Ergonomics Programs for information on creating, implementing, and maintaining ergonomics programs to prevent work-related MSDs.


We’d like to hear from you!

How is your workplace trying to promote safe ergonomic practices and reduce musculoskeletal disorders?

What ergonomic interventions have been most effective in your workplace?

Please share strategies and programs in the comment section below.


Taylor M. Shockey, MPH, is a Title 42 Fellow in the NIOSH Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies. 


Posted on by Taylor M. Shockey, MPH

2 comments on “Frequent Exertion and Frequent Standing Among US Workers”

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    I work at one of the renowned hospital in capital city of Nepal. We have physiotherapist who help in lifting the patient. But still we are facing problem while changing position of patients who are obese.

    Talking about promoting safe ergonomic practices, we have electrical bed with help of which we can lift our patient.
    Till now I do not think any interventions have been made.

    As a nurse, we need to care obese patients as well, if male auxiliary staffs are designated in critical areas or in those areas where there is need of care to the patients, they can help nurses in positioning patient or mobilize patients.

    I will gladly admit to my bias on this subject, but the truth is we all have available to us a body of knowledge of over 50 years(!) that strongly suggests “teaching people how to lift correctly”, does not reduce the incidence of back injuries on the job. Yet this remains the standard in industry with regard to how we attempt to reduce back injuries.
    When, instead, we focus on teaching employees how they, themselves, can put their own back, “back in”, back injuries and back pain is dramatically reduced.
    Yes, people do still respond to “empowerment” training and will gladly perform self-mobilization movements, IF, they actually feel results themselves.
    Peter Guske PT

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