The fitness ball, also known as a 'Swiss', 'exercise' or 'physio' ball, is an inflatable ball designed for use in training and exercise programs. It is also used in physical rehabilitation programs
Makers of fitness balls suggest that people may also find them useful to reduce back pain when sitting and to encourage better posture.
Some organisations and individuals have adapted fitness balls' original use to make them a replacement for an office or workplace chair.
Using a fitness ball at work
There is little, if any, evidence of scientific trials or studies suggesting fitness balls are suitable for use on a daily basis as a seat at work. Although sitting on a fitness ball requires constant exercise to maintain posture, there is no evidence that using a fitness ball as standard seating has the benefits of an exercise program. From the literature to date, researchers do not recommend the fitness ball as a standard alternative to conventional seating in the workplace.
Work-related injury management
The use of a fitness ball for seating may be recommended by a health professional for a specific person following a work-related injury. In such a case the use of the ball should be prescribed in a documented and supervised treatment program that is integrated into a return to work plan.
The documentation should include recommendations about length of time the person should sit on the ball throughout the day, duration of use and any other treatments provided.
Before using a fitness ball as a chair, a worksite assessment should be undertaken to ensure that the work can be safely performed while seated on the fitness ball. The use of the fitness ball should be regularly reviewed by the relevant health professional.
For more information regarding the requirements of return to work plans see the card at the bottom of this page, Returning to work: A guide for injured workers.
Hazards of using a fitness ball as a chair
Providing fitness balls in a workplace may place the employer at risk of introducing a hazard. An employer should assess the risk to health and safety where the balls are used, or planned to be used, as seating at work.
Known hazards include:
- high concentration levels and fatigue from sustained exercising
- the initial upright posture is likely to be lost over a long period of sitting because there is no full seat and back support
- upright postures are not able to be maintained during tasks requiring any reaching or moving around
- employees cannot swivel or navigate around the workstation
- getting on and off or reaching from the ball may create a falling hazard
- the sitting surface does not provide adequate support for the buttocks and thighs
There are adaptations of the ball to fit within a standard adjustable chair base with a backrest but this adaptation would seem ineffective because most of the exercise advantage would be lost and the sitting surface would further decrease support for the buttocks and thighs.
The importance of good seating in the workplace
People sit at work to perform tasks that require concentration, posture, stability and visual access, often for up to eight or nine hours a day. Computer use is an example of such work. For these situations, seating should be supportive and not require excessive work to maintain the seated posture.
The WorkSafe handbook Officewise: A guide to health and safety in the office has information about good seating and a card linking to this page is available below.
Short-term or intermittent use of fitness balls may be appropriate as a physical rehabilitation aid as part of a proper rehabilitation plan.
In general, WorkSafe Victoria recommends that fitness balls not be used as dedicated workplace seating.
Employers will not satisfy their legal duties to make work safe by providing fitness balls as furniture for their workforce.
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017
AS 4438 – 1997 (R2016): Height adjustable swivel chairs
AS 4438 – 1997 (R2016): Amendment 1: 1999 Height Adjustment Swivel Chairs