Chair Ergonomics – A Basic Guide

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When kitting out your office, looking for a serviced office, or even just looking for a chair in your at-home workspace you may come across the word ‘ergonomic’. Ergonomic is a bit of a trendy word at the minute, and is used in lots of different ways. It is important to note that the term is no longer extensive and can be used at times to describe just one singular aspect of a workspace.


If you are thinking about investing in an ergonomic chair, it’s definitely a good idea to think about how that benefits you. Are you purchasing an ergonomic chair because it’s trendy, despite it not actually giving you any true value. Or is the term important and much more complex than many uses of it might have you believe?


Understanding Ergonomics

The first thing you need to do is understand what ergonomics actually is. On a very basic level, ergonomics has a prime reason, which is to reduce any stress on the body caused by where you are or what you are doing.

Ergonomic awareness is huge now, because so many studies, authority medical councils and governing bodies have identified the problem of MSD’s or ‘musculoskeletal disorders’. An MSD can be something like; carpal tunnel, trigger finger or ruptured spinal discs. An MSD can affect your bones, muscles, nerves and soft tissues. A person with an MSD can suffer greatly both short term and long term. A person can suffer from an MSD if the ergonomics in the environment they are in, or the activities they are doing are not considered fully.

Getting An MSD

Considering ergonomics well should be able to minimise the risk of your workforce getting an MSD. The best approach is always prevention over cure.

It is important to understand that MSD’s come in two different forms – acute and cumulative. Acute means sudden – so a person may lift a box incorrectly or use equipment incorrectly and sustain immediate damage to the body. Cumulative is a gradual process – so a person may use a badly suited chair everyday at work and find it interrupts proper blood flow, promotes bad posture and puts stress on their joints which results in lots of tiny traumas to the body which may not immediately present symptoms. However, when the symptoms finally do present the damage is generally already done, and the person will be suffering from an MSD that could potentially cause them problems for life.

Identifying The Risks

It is important to not only consider your chair ergonomics, but the ergonomics of the entire work environment you provide. Look at environmental design, equipment and training in order to ascertain the changes you need to make. Whenever people interact with an environment, there will always be a risk present, but looking at the environment as a whole – equipment, behaviour, activity levels, lighting and so on – will significantly reduce any potential risk massively. Excellent office equipment will go a long way to prevent staff getting an MSD, but it is always a good idea to have an integrated approach.

Why Is Finding An Ergonomic Chair So Important?

Although an integrated approach is key, the chair gets a special mention in relation to office ergonomics because it is a key piece of office equipment. Staff can sit for hours at a time on their chair, and may operate machines and other technology whilst sitting on it. So it has a large impact on overall office ergonomics.

Need To Know’s

Choosing the right ergonomic chair isn’t easy and will take you a little bit of time and research, but it is worth the extra effort. Approaching chair selection from an ergonomic perspective means sitting is a very specific activity, affected by the way that the seated person then interacts with their working environment.

Consider The Following –

  • One chair may not the be right ergonomic solution for every person in the office, which is why adjustable chairs are a great option.
  • Remember it is impossible to find one chair that suits all environments. The chair you select will need to relate to the industry you are in and the main activities the people using the chairs take part in.
  • Don’t just factor in how much the chairs cost initially. Chairs with adjustability options may need maintaining which could add extra costs onto your budget.
  • Don’t just assume it is ‘ergonomic’. If the chair is advertised as ergonomic, ask the manufacturer or retailer how it is ergonomic. If they haven’t just used the word as a promotional tool without any meaning, they will be more than happy to tell you how the chair is in fact, ergonomic.


How To Choose A Good Ergonomic Chair

Adjustability – to save yourself buying everyone in the office a bespoke ergonomic chair, opt for a chair with adjustability so that it’s arms, backrest and height can be adjusted to suit the user’s dimensions.

How Much Adjustability? – Check the adjustability is suitable for everyone in the office. Some seats are more adjustable than others. Check the chair accommodates the shortest and tallest people in the office.

Lumbar Support – As well as the backrest being adjustable and flexible, it should also be firm and provide excellent lumbar support.

Stability – check the chair is stable in all adjusted positions.

Posture – ensure the chair promotes excellent posture.

Material – Ensure the chair is covered in a material that is unlikely to aggravate the person sitting on it. Certain materials can be scratchy on bare legs or promote too much heat, others can be slippy and do not present a good grip.

Durability – there’s no point investing in lots of fantastic chairs if they aren’t designed to last. This is where you may have to splash a little more cash, but it’s worth it if the chairs last 2 years rather than 6 months.

Armrests – remember everyone has different length arms. Arm rests can be too short and don’t provide enough arm support, or too long and get in the way. They may also be too wide and mean the seated person has to strain to rest their arms, or too narrow which again means a person has to be uncomfortable in order to rest their arms.

Workstation Access – some seats will have a larger girth than others, so check that when a person is sitting back into the chair completely that they still maintain excellent posture and are able to access their workstations without straining.

Floor To Chair Bottom Contact – if you opt to purchase chairs with static legs, remember that may add additional strain on the seated person by the way of them having to twist to get to certain items on their workstation. This problem can be resolved by setting the workstation up to suit the stationary chair. Just remember to get a lightweight chair that is easily lifted and manoeuvred as not to promote additional back strain on the person moving it. Regardless of whether or not you opt for a chair with wheels or legs, remember to consider the flooring it is on. If the flooring is particularly smooth, are wheels on a chair going to be dangerous? Is there a carpet and is it prone to threads or parts that could tangle up in the chair’s wheels?

Before You Invest

Before you put any money down on ergonomic chairs make sure they can be tried out in a real work situation. Ask to try out a model for a day and get several members of staff to try using it properly. This doesn’t mean they will simply sit and say whether or not it is comfortable. They need to actively work on the chair for an hour and let you know how it was for them. If any problems do present, let the manufacturer or retailer know and they may be able to offer you a solution you weren’t aware of, or another chair more suited to your particular work environment.

Ergonomic Chairs Matter

A strong, ergonomic chair should enable the seated person to sit in a comfortable, supported position. Remember that whilst the chair is important, if a person is not trained on how to sit using proper posture and how to interact with their entire work environment properly, the ergonomics of the chair will not stop health and safety issues within your workplace. Opt for an integrated approach in every scenario.

To read more about DSE (Display Screen Equipment) and workstation rules and regulations from HSE, click here.

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