VUSA 2017: insights about healthy office work

The topic of this year’s VUSA congress on occupational medicine in Flanders was healthy office work. Mensura attended the event and compiled a brief overview of the main findings. 

Two key topics dominated this event on healthy living: environmental factors, and ergonomic and psychosocial aspects. Not only researchers and professors but also experts in the field were invited to lecture. Below are the topics considered most valuable by Mensura’s attending team members.

Indoor air quality

By ensuring proper ventilation in work areas, you can help reduce worker absenteeism. This fact was further substantiated during the congress by an English study from 1994 which demonstrated that 35% of short-term absenteeism was due to poor workplace ventilation. The quality of the air we breathe has a direct impact on our work performance.

Maurits De Ridder (Federal Public Service for Well-Being in the Workplace, Ghent University) believes measuring CO2 levels is a good method to determine the quality of indoor air in office environments. Marianne Stranger of Flanders’ Institute for Technological Research (VITO) confirms this and substantiated the findings with research results: CO2 levels measured by industrial hygiene experts are a good indicator of any presence of airborne pollution sources.

Cleaning during non-business hours

Indoor air in office environments can be improved by making sure that all rooms are adequately ventilated during breaks and in between work shifts. This is especially important right after cleaning, during renovation works, or when offices are fitted with wall-to-wall carpets. Also remember to properly heat and air out any rooms that have just been painted and to refrain from using these areas in the meantime.

Plan as many cleaning activities during non-business hours, as the use of cleaning agents emits fine dust particles into the air which can damage human health.

Breaking the pattern

Sitting is the new smoking, and getting enough exercise during the day is essential. Going for a 30-minute run in the morning and then sitting at a desk all day is not good for your health. It is important to regularly break up the pattern of sitting at work.

Wim Dankaerts is a professor and expert in the field of exercise and rehabilitation. He says there is a clear distinction between ‘sitting at work’ and ‘not getting enough exercise’. Both are detrimental to our health but essentially have little to do with one another. Measuring muscular parameters will more accurately indicate whether or not someone is ‘sitting properly’.

It is difficult to put employers under an obligation to make ten-minute exercise breaks mandatory for every hour of work performed by those who do seated work. However, they can improve the situation by promoting such exercise breaks among their workers via the 10,000-step plan, for instance, or by conducting meetings standing up.  

Alternatives to sitting

There are plenty of methods available to help break up the pattern of sitting at work, but the best way to start is by introducing sit/stand desks to create an ideal ergonomic workstation. Stretching your legs while at your desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator: every bit of exercise counts. Alternatives to traditional office set-ups include the use of chairs that improve posture and offer more variety in the seated position, such as dynamic chairs, knee chairs that allow for open hip angles, bike chairs and ball chairs.

Want to learn more about healthy office work? Read these articles about workplace ergonomics and industrial hygiene and toxicology, or get in touch with us at