On Oct. 18, 2017, the Secretary of the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) Silvestre H. Bello III issued Department Order (DO) 184, Series of 2017, entitled “Safety and Health Measures for Workers Who, By the Nature of their Work, Have to Spend Long Hours Sitting.”
DO 184-17 came at an opportune time, with the influx of business process outsourcing companies in the Philippines whose employees are customarily made to sit in front of their computer screens for the entire duration of their shifts. With a good percentage of the country’s population seeping into these industries, there is room for concern as to the long-term and short-term effects of sedentary work. In fact, studies have linked sitting for long periods of time to a bundle of health risks, including obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. Worse, experts say that exercising to offset the effects of a sedentary lifestyle will be futile, as the solution is not through surges of sudden mobility but through gradual decrease in habitual immobility.
Specifically to curb the cluster of health conditions and consistent with the Secretary of Labor and Employment’s mandate to enforce occupational safety and health standards to ensure safe and healthful conditions in all places of employment in the country, DO 184-17 directs all employers and establishments to institute appropriate control measures to eliminate or, at the very least, minimize the health risks of prolonged sitting. These measures shall include the following:
• Regular five-minute breaks for every two hours of sitting time;
• Reduction of sedentary work by substituting sitting time with standing and walking;
• Appropriate designs for workstations for the type of work involved;
• Change of work systems which facilitate easy mobility of workers;
• Redesigning work tasks to enable greater variability in movement or posture;
• Organize activities that promote health and allow workers to do more physical exercise after work;
• Initiatives to raise awareness on the health effects of prolonged sitting and sedentary work; and,
• Medical surveillance of workers who are at risk of getting the deleterious health effects of prolonged sitting and sedentary work.
Notably, DO 184-17 applies not only to workers in the BPO industry, but to all workers who have to spend long hours sitting at work, such as those involved in administrative and clerical work, those working in highly mechanized establishments, and those working in the fields of transportation, among others.
It further directs the concerned employers or establishments to strictly implement the safety and health measures required by the order and to notify DoLE, through the Regional Office which has jurisdiction over the workplace, of such adoption.
While the issuance does not provide for a penalty should the establishment fail to adopt its directives, pertinent DoLE Regional Offices are delegated to monitor the strict implementation thereof, so much so that such failure may warrant the issuance of an Order of Compliance upon DoLE’s inspection of the employer’s premises and practices.
Concomitantly, DO 184-17 houses only one of the many mandatory workplace policies required by DoLE and prescribed by several labor legislations to be adopted by Philippine employers. In fact, the said issuance is only complementary to an earlier order, Department Order 178, Series of 2017, which requires employers to give sitting breaks to employees who customarily stand due to the nature of their work.
These mandatory workplace policies on health and safety, including those that aim to control and prevent tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and Hepatitis B, those that regulate smoking in the workplace, and those that seek to maintain an alcohol- and drug-free workplace, are all in furtherance of the mandate to foster safe and comfortable working conditions for workers.
However, most of these policies, when enforced, merely allow for concessions in favor of the employees rather than impose rules against them. Thus, whether to conform with the purpose of these policies and comply with the guidelines ultimately rests not with the employers but with the workers who stand to be benefited by these government initiatives.