In many ergonomic consultations, the very first sentence I hear from employees is: “my chair is so uncomfortable! Could it be replaced?” Or – “I’m used to sitting this way and I don’t have any pains”.
Do these sentences reflect a real problem, or are they uttered as a result of thought patterns we have grown accustomed to?
Usually I find that most complaints reflect a lack of basic knowledge of how to adjust the seat properly, how high or how far away from the table to sit and where to place the hands. In my experience, most employees use the chair just as it was when they received it, with no attempt to change the backrest angle or height, the seat depth, or even the seat height.
Quite often I come across tall people sitting on a chair that fits shorter people and vice versa.
Ergonomic engineers invest a lot of time, thought and effort in designing a chair with a variety of adjustment options that will be easy to operate. Unluckily, in reality many people are simply too afraid to try and manipulate the chair, and even if they do make adjustments, they do not always perform them properly.
I have often wondered about the reason for that. Don’t people listen to what their own bodies tell them? What type and level of pain will cause them to take action? Is it the workplace pressure to fulfill the task at hand that does not allow people to devote a minute of their time to the chair they sit on? Are people deterred by their fear of what they perceive as a challenging technical feat? Are they afraid that even if they do adjust their chair it will make no difference? Could it perhaps be that this lack of attention is only the outcome of a lack of awareness?
What is an ergonomic chair?
Before you purchase a chair touted to be ergonomic, it is worthwhile to map your real needs and make sure this is the right chair for you.
These are the parameters you should take into account:
a. The size of the chair VS the size of the user (remember, ergonomic means adjusted for the user!);
b. Chair height VS desk height. The right proportion should allow for a correct sitting posture that does not put a load on the shoulders.
c. The number of people that will be using the chair. For multiple users, it is recommended to purchase a chair with a variety of adjusting options, in order to allow for optimal fitting to each user.
d. The chair’s seat should be covered with a comfortable, non slip, absorbing fabric that prevents slipping or sweating. The chair should be equipped with an additional mechanism for adjusting the seat’s depth.
e. The backrest must have a mechanism that allows for adjusting it at different angles (nowadays, the recommended angle between the seat and back rest is 110 degrees).
In addition, it’s recommended to make sure that the chair backrest’s height can also be adjusted, to allow for maximum support of the lower back at the concave depression (back lordosis).
f. The armrests must be adjustable for height, width, sliding back and forth as well as shifting inside. If your desk is ergonomic, you do not use the armrests but place your forearms on the desk (the armrests are just that – there to be used mainly when you’re resting).
g. The chair’s height – should be adjusted both to the user’s height and to the desk, so you will feel that when you’re placing your forearms on the ergonomic desk, your shoulders and neck can be relaxed.
Therefore, it is important to choose a chair that includes a simple mechanism allowing for easy lifting and lowering of the chair.
h. Synchronizing mechanism – keeps the sitting posture optimal while changing the load on the back vertebrae.
i. Rocking mode – keeps the back in motion and alleviates the pressure exerted on the vertebrae by prolonged sitting. It is recommended to occasionally take a break at work and give the back some rest through a rocking movement.