Amicus Curiae

Standing at work

Martin Luigi G. Samson

September 19, 2017

On Aug. 25, the secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Silvestre H. Bello III issued Department Order 178-17 Series of 2017 entitled “Safety and Health Measures for Workers Who by the Nature of their Work Have to Stand at Work.”
DO 178-17 was issued in accordance with the power of the secretary of Labor and Employment to promulgate standards to ensure the safety and health of all employees and to set and enforce mandatory occupational safety and health standards in all places of work so that health risks may be eliminated, and safe and healthful working conditions in all workplaces will be ensured.
As the title suggests, DO 178-17 aims to curb the harmful health consequences which employees may suffer as a result of their being required by the nature of their work to stand at work during their entire shift. The typical examples would be retail and/or service employees, assembly line workers, teachers, security personnel, as well as cashiers, sales clerks, pharmacists, who are made to stand for the entire duration of their shifts.
Continuous standing at work usually causes discomfort and fatigue to the concerned employees. In fact, it has been shown that one should frequently alternate between sitting and standing in order to avoid fatigue. Otherwise, prolonged standing at work, especially in a fixed position, can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs and pain in muscles of the legs, back, shoulders and neck. Moreover, prolonged standing has been shown to cause varicose veins and may even lead to degenerative damage to the joints of the spine, hip, knees, and feet. The health risks are even worse for females who are required to wear high-heeled shoes at work.
DO 178 directs all employers and/or establishments to institute appropriate control measures in order to address the risks associate with standing at work or frequent walking. The measures outlined in DO 178-17 include the following:
• Implement rest periods to break or cut the time spent on standing or walking;
• Install appropriate flooring or mats that will mitigate the impact of frequent walking and prevent fatigue, such as wood or rubber floorings;
• Provide tables or work surfaces with adjustable heights to allow workers to alternately sit and stand while performing their tasks;
• Provide 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. These can be small foldable stools which can easily be stowed away so as not to hamper the work area; and,
• Implement the use of footwear which is practical and comfortable. These should not pinch the feet or toes; are well-fitted and non-slipping; provide adequate cushion and support to the arch of the feet; either flat or with low heels that must be wide-based or wedge type and no higher than one inch.
The employers, in consultation with the workers, may adopt other measures to address the occupational safety and health concerns of workers who have to stand at work for long periods or whose functions require them to work frequently.
Aside from the directive to allow the employees to sit or stand at will whenever possible, DO 178-17 also forbids employers from requiring women in wearing high-heeled shoes at work. DO 178-17 thus makes the Philippines the first country in Asia to ban the mandatory wearing of high-heeled shoes in the workplace.
DO 178-17 will become effective 15 days after its publication in a newspaper of general circulation. As of date, it has yet to be published. The date of effectivity is significant since DO 178-17 directs all covered employers and establishments to comply and to notify the DoLE, through the Regional Office which has jurisdiction over the workplace, of the adoption of the safety and health measures within thirty (30) days from the effectivity of DO 178-17.
While the new DO does not contain a provision on the penalties or sanctions to be imposed, employers who will ignore or defy the new DO may be issued an Order of Compliance by the DoLE. Thus, employers must determine whether or not they are covered by the new DO, and if so, comply with the directives, as well as the reportorial requirement.