SINGAPORE - Sitting down for long periods in the office should come with a mandatory warning: It could speed up death.

While office workers usually worry about back pain and hurting necks, the real danger lies in those silent chronic diseases you can't feel.

Chia Kee Seng, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, told My Paper: "Research shows that sitting for long periods of time contributes to the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart attack...as well as overall death risk.

 

"One study reported that sitting for 11 hours or more per day increased the risk of death by 40 per cent, regardless of other activity levels."

To tackle the threat, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council are urging employers to focus on their workers' health, and not just their safety.

A panel will develop guidelines and encourage firms to adopt this approach.

"We can also expect work-related ill health to rise over time...Our workforce will get older and become more susceptible to work-related health risks if we do not make adjustments in the work environment," said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam at the launch of the seventh National Workplace Safety and Health Campaign yesterday.

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of the WSH Council, added: "We tend to look at health as if it's different from safety. But, in fact, if you have underlying health conditions and you take them to work, there are certain risks."

Professor Chia added: "Right now, employers see very clearly, if I have an accident in the workplace, MOM will come down and give a stop-work order - very direct cost implications. But if my workers have diabetes, insurance covers it...they don't factor in productivity loss."

One study showed that work-related ill health cost Singapore $9 billion in 2011.