Ergonomics in the office.

What do you think of when you hear the word “ergonomics”? Most of us have a vague idea that it’s something to do with design, and that it might also have something to with our office chair and desk arrangement. We might even dismiss it as something really fancy that doesn’t have any part to play in our lives.


But the truth is, the principles of ergonomics are applied to almost everything we use in our everyday working lives. It factors in other sciences, such as anatomy and physiology, and looks at how humans interact with their environments, to design working spaces that, well, work.


Being uncomfortable at work leads to poor performance and reduced productivity as well as discomfort and actual physical aches, pains and conditions that mean we’re not working to our best ability. Lower back pain in particular is responsible for workplace injury, and ultimately, time off work.


That’s why the humble desk chair is so important to get right.


Anthropometrics is the practice of taking measurements of the human body. Designers can then use these measurements when developing office chairs that are comfortable and fit for purpose. That is, anthropometric data is used in ergonomics, to create office chairs that fit and accommodate the human form.


As we all know, no two human bodies are alike. So it’s important that in taking anthropometric measurements, that they’re taken from a wide and varied number of different humans. This includes different shapes, sizes, weights, heights and genders.


However, realistically, a chair designer can only go so far. Unless we’re lucky enough to be able to afford a bespoke chair for every employee, it’s unlikely we’ll be doing anything other than buying the same chairs, in bulk. No one size fits all, so it’s crucial that these bulk buy office chairs are fully adjustable.


But what do we mean by this? And what exactly are the recommendations set out in regard to office chairs?


The DSE is quite clear on this, stating that its minimum requirements are:


“The work chair shall be stable and allow the operator or user easy freedom of movement and a comfortable position. The seat shall be adjustable in height. The seat back shall be adjustable in both height and tilt. A footrest shall be made available to any operator or user who wishes one.”


(The DSE also has minimum ergonomic requirements concerning other aspects of desk working such as the desk itself, display screens and keyboards.)


But an office chair is just a chair, right?




Let’s look at these two chairs. The first is the Herman Miller Mirra and the second is the RH Logic 300 or 400. These two chairs are considered the sports cars of the sitting-at-a-desk world. Or the thrones of the office environment if you prefer.


With adjustable lumbar supports, seat depths, arms, tilt, neck rests, backrests and seat heights, they can be tailored to suit an individual’s needs.


Now let’s consider the popular basic model of office chair called – operator’s chair. This style of chair is found in offices up and down the country, often with wobbly backs, worn out seat pads and dodgy wheels. Yes, it claims to have lumbar support and an ‘ergonomic curved back’, but if you can only adjust the height of the chair, it isn’t going to properly support an individual’s body.


It’s most definitely worth considering pricier, yet in the long run less likely to lead to staff sickness, models of chair.


So next time you’re sitting at your desk, give a little thanks to those who have taken the time to collect anthropometric data and have used them, along with the principles of ergonomics, to consider your comfort and safety.


(Unless of course, your chair is uncomfortable, doesn’t adjust and is causing you discomfort. Then you should grab a copy of the HSE Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 as amended by the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002, and look up pages 34-37, “Minimum Requirements for Workstations”. Here it is for ease.)

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