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Chairs that are sold as "ergonomic chairs" are designed to suit a range of people; however, there is no guarantee that they will suit any one person in particular. For example, a chair could be too high and the arm rests too far apart for a short, slim person. In addition, chairs may not suit every task or arrangement at the workstation. A chair becomes ergonomic only when it specifically suits a worker's size (body dimensions), their particular workstation, and the tasks that must be performed there. These factors must all be considered when deciding which chair to use.
Injuries resulting from sitting for long periods are a serious occupational health and safety problem. Sitting jobs require less muscular effort, but that does not exempt people from the injury risks usually associated with more physically demanding tasks. For example, clerks, electronic assembly-line employees, and data entry operators who work in a sitting position also suffer back pain, muscle tenderness, and aches. In fact, reports of varicose veins, stiff necks, and numbness in the legs are more common among seated employees than among those doing heavier tasks.
In addition, sedentary time has been found to be associated with health effects such as metabolic syndrome (including diabetes), heart disease, and poor mental health. These effects are not related to how active a person is physically.
See the OSH Answers “Working in a Sitting Position” for more information.
With the ergonomics approach, sitting is viewed as a specific, specialized activity which is influenced by the way that a sitting person interacts with the working environment.
Several basic concepts should be considered:
Some features are important for a good chair regardless of how you intend to use it:
Other features to consider
Personal preference is essential to the process of selecting a chair.
A well-designed chair allows the user to sit in a balanced position. Buying an ergonomic chair is a good beginning but it may not bring the benefits expected. It is still important to sit properly.
Also, remember that the chair is only one of the components to be considered in workstation design. All the elements such as the chair, footrest (if needed), work surface, document holders, task lighting and so on need to have flexibility and adjustability to be "designed in".
For more information about selecting and adjusting an ergonomic chair please visit the OSH Answers document How to Adjust Office Chairs.
In addition, workers should be made aware of the health hazards of prolonged sitting and give recommendations on what a worker in a given workplace can do to improve their working position. Employees need to know how to adjust the workstation to fit their individual needs for specific tasks. They also must know how to readjust the workstation throughout the day to relieve muscular tension.
Emphasize the importance of “rest” periods for their health and explain the importance of “active” rest. For example, a worker's duties can include opportunities to stand, walk, or otherwise move around in order to reduce the amount of time spent sitting. Where practical, jobs should incorporate "activity breaks" such as work-related tasks away from the desk or simple exercises which employees can carry out on the worksite.