What is an Ergonomic Chair & what makes it special?

According to Ergonomic Trends, “an Ergonomic Chair is one that not only follows best practices in terms of proven ergonomic design, but is highly adjustable to cater to different people and sitting positions”.  

However……

Although a vast body of research on seating in recent years has greatly advanced our understanding of ergonomics, we are left with many gaps in how to address user's discomforts and support their activities

R. Lueder and K. Noro, 1994

Put differently,  we know what an Ergonomic chair should be doing, but all too often the expected benefits are not realised. To understand why this is happening we need to understand what Ergonomics actually is and what an Ergonomic chair should do. We will then look at what will be required to get the maximum benefit from your Ergonomic chair.

1. What does ERGONOMIC actually mean and how is this related to anyone working in an office?

Office Ergonomics is about designing office equipment to suit the people using it.

For desk workers, this really means that the chair, desk, monitor and keyboard are designed and adjusted (or setup), to reduce or prevent the user from suffering unnecessary fatigue, stress and injury. Office ergonomics is sometimes known as human factors engineering. Best practices for Ergonomics in the Workplace

Computers and related products, such as computer desks and chairs, are often the focus of ergonomic design. Many people use these products for extended periods during their normal working day. If they are poorly designed, incorrectly adjusted or incorrectly placed, they can have a detrimental impact on the person using them. The 5 consequences of sitting on the wrong chair

ERGONOMICS and sitting at work

At the beginning of the last century, people realised that the wellbeing and efficiency of employees could be improved, and fatigue reduced, if workers were allowed to sit down while performing their tasks. This contributed to the study of ergonomics and a focus on designing chairs for work. According to one international study, office workers spend 75% of their waking hours sitting down, so it’s little wonder that sedentary workers experience all sorts of health ailments! 

However, our bodies are not designed for sitting, and doing so for long periods can have a negative impact on our long-term health and wellbeing. How to Protect Your Health in the Age of the Office Chair.

According to Better Health (Vic), the most common health-related issues caused by sitting for extended periods include: 

2. What should an ERGONOMIC chair do?

Research on seating recognises there is no correct posture and no one “right way” to sit. Leading researchers now acknowledge that many postures may be comfortable depending on the individual and the the work activities (Koemer, 1994). 

An ergonomic chair must however satisfy the following:

  • Support a person’s body

      – A chair should fit the person who uses it. If everyone were the same, this would be easy. But everyone is different. So the design of a chair must accomodate the range of individuals who will use it. 

We are not all the same height, we do not weigh the same, our arm and leg lengths are different, and so the list goes on. With this in mind, purchasing a chair for yourself becomes a very personal thing as the chair needs to meet your physical requirements. As an example, if you are “big and tall”, a heavy duty chair may be more suitable for you. What is a heavy duty chair?

Not only must the chair match your physical size and shape, but it should also take into account any special requirements that you may have. For example, are you suffering from lower back pain, muscle strains or tendonitis? Does the chair suit these special needs? Do you require an Orthopedic chair?

  • Support activity

    – When considering ergonomic seating, what people do, how they do it and for how long are essential pieces of information. Ergonomic chairs should support all the activities in which you engage, not just one primary activity.

 

What work do you perform at your workstation? For example,

  • will the chair be used in an office, laboratory, factory, home office or for gaming?
  • Will it be used by a single person or will there be multiple users?
  • What desk or table will be used?
  • Do you have to perform physically demanding tasks like lifting heavy objects at your workstation?

Only once you understand your physiological shape and size, workstation setup, and finally the task that you need to perform, can you select the correct chair.

  • Promote movement

    – An ergonomic chair should promote movement and encourage the natural movements of the body as it provides support. The chair design must provide unobstrusive stable support that is responsive to the users’positions and motions.

A Synchro Mechanism allows the angle between the spine and thigh to open and close as the user moves forwards and backwards on the seat.  This movement stimulates the muscles and this improves bood circulation. See What is Dynamic Sitting

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A synchro Mechanism allows for Dynamic sitting
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A Free-Float mechanism allows the seat to tilt forward

The Free-Float mechanism of an Orthopedic chair will allow the seat to tilt forward. This is of benefit when leaning forward as the angle between the spine and thigh will not close up. The benefit is that the intervertebral stress in the lumbar region will not increase when leaning forward. At the same time, the pressure between the seat and thigh will not increase to possibly restrict blood circulation. See What is the difference between a Synchro and a Free-Float mechanism?

A Kneeling chair does not require a backrest. This is inherent in the design!  As there is no backrest, the movement of the torso is not restricted, allowing the user more flexibility to reach more inaccessible areas in the workspace. However, a kneeling chair is not always suitable for everyone. See Kneeling Chair – Pros and Cons

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A Kneeling chair allows free movement of the torso
  • Enable performance

    – An ergonomic chair is a tool to support you in the performance of your job. As such, it should facilitate, support and enable effective performance. A good chairshould enable people to be more productive.

The right office chair can greatly impact the lives of your employees. There have been several studies completed that discovered that choosing office furniture that is both ergonomically designed and comfortable can have a major impact on employee happiness, as well as their productivity. 

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  • Be easy to use

    – To accommodate individual differences in size, ergonomic chairs provide many possible adjustments. Unfortunately, often, the correct setup of some of these important adjustments have not been correctly explained to the user. This results in incorrectly set up chairs.  In a study in Spain and the Netherlands, it was found the up to 61% of office chair users never adjusted they chairs irrespective of ergonomic requirements. (P.Vink 2002)

 

  • Controls that are easy to adjust from a sitting position. This is especially important if different people use the same chair, for example hot-desking or shift work on an assembly line. 
  • A seat with a front edge that curves towards the floor.
  • seat that is height adjustable.
  • Breathable, non-slippery fabric on the seat.
  • A backrest that supports the lumbar region of your back.  Height adjustable backrests and/or adjustable lumbar supports are ideal.
  • A seat that does not put pressure on the back of thighs.
  • A stable 5-star base.
  • Wheels or castors suitable for the type of flooring. Hard rimmed castors for carpets and soft/rubber rimmed ones for tiles, concrete or wooden floors.
  • swivel mechanism that offers Dynamic Sitting is the preferred option. What is the difference between office chair mechanisms?
  • Multi-adjustable armrests that do not interfere with free movements within your work area. 
Features of a good ergonomic chair

3. How to get the maximum benefit from my Ergonomic chair.

Select the correct ergonomic chair.

 – Use the selection criteria above to assist you to find the chair for your requirements. Get professional advice for a medical professional, e.g., a physiotherapist. 

Become familiar with the adjustment controls of the chair.

 – Look for the “how to adjust my chair” videos.  (You will find links to these videos in the product documentation when purchasing a chair)

 – Practice using the adjustment controls.  You ergonomic requirements will change during the course of the day. Change the chair settings accordingly. 

Your workstation setup.

 – This is key to getting the maximum benefit from your ergonomic chair. How high is the desk or table? Can the chair be adjusted accordingly? Is there sufficient space below the desk to accommodate your legs? Can you place for feet in a comfortable position? Is your movement restricted? What is the correct height for my desk, computer monitor and office chair?

If you have an underlying medical condition, get professional help to adjust your ergonomic chair correctly. An incorrectly adjusted chair may aggravate the condition, or cause other complications. Contact us for advice.

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