This article was written by Jordan Lees, OHS Consultant and Occupational Physiotherapist (B. Physiotherapy (Hons), B. Law (LLB), Dip WHS)
What to look for in an ergonomic office chair?
Choosing an ergonomic office chair is a daunting task. Walk into an office furniture store and you will see hundreds of chairs all claiming to be "ergonomic". Unfortunately however, many of the chairs that are labelled as ergonomic should not be labelled so, and those with the "ergonomic" label are usually heavily over-priced.
Following are several factors to take into consideration when choosing an ergonomic office chair, to help you make the right decision and save money in the process. They are by no means exhaustive and individual requirements often need to be taken into consideration when choosing appropriate chairs for your staff. If you need assistance with this, our Office Design Consultancy may be of interest to you.
For your reference, we recommend ErgoPhysio Chairs to our clients when recommending ergonomic office chairs. ErgoPhysio Chairs have been designed by Physiotherapists and they offer multiple sizes in the same chair, ensuring that each chair is the perfect fit for each user.
Many ergonomic office chair brands charge north of $1000 for a chair. In my opinion, you do not need to pay this amount for a good quality ergonomic chair. I certainly do not recommend such chairs to any of my own clients. In fact, you'd be better off getting a cheaper chair and spending the left over money on an electric standing desk, because this is where you will reap greater physical benefits for your employees.
There are many great chairs that come in at around the $500 mark. More important than the cost of the chair are the features that the chair has. These are explained below. One thing that is often true is that really cheap chairs (i.e. < $300) often lack the adjustable features described below, so this is something to watch out for.
Your ergonomic office chair should have a minimum of 3 adjustable levers. This usually means that there is a separate lever to adjust the chair height, the backrest angle, and the seat pan angle. Poorer quality chairs often only have 2 levers, which results in the backrest angle and the seat pain angle being changed simultaneously. Stay away from these chairs if possible.
The height of the backrest must be adjustable. This is because many people have different backs lengths and will require the support to be in different areas of their back. Many mesh-backed chairs do not have this feature, so be careful to be sure that your chair does if you want to get a mesh chair.
Whilst on the topic of mesh backs, it is my opinion that mesh backs are inferior to fabric backs when it comes to back support, as well as durability. This is unfortunate because a lot of chairs now have mesh backs. After speaking with a lot of chair manufacturers, the main reason for this is that many architects and interior designers want to use mesh backs for aesthetic reasons. When buying an ergonomic office chairs, actual ergonomics and comfort are more important than aesthetics, so be careful of this trap.
The backrest must also be able to angled backwards and forwards independently from the seat cushion that you sit on (this is called the seat pan). Many cheaper ergonomic chairs do not have this feature, with the seat pan and backrest moving simultaneously when one or the other is changed.
Ergonomic chairs with three adjustable levers (as opposed to two) usually allow the seat pan and backrest to be adjustable independently, so this is a good starting point when short-listing chairs.
Something to look out for is that many of the more expensive space-age looking models of ergonomic chairs do not actually allow you to position the backrest at a specific angle. Instead, they have pre-set positions that the backrest can be angled to. This is extremely counter-productive and should be avoided because these sorts of chairs cannot be adjusted to suit the requirements of each individual.
Be careful that the seat pan is not too deep. Many brands of ergonomic chairs in Australia have a seat pan depth of 50cm or more. This is too big for the majority of people. A safe bet is to ensure that the seat pan comes in at around 47-48cm. This is likely to capture the majority of people of an "average" height.
The seat pan is one part of the chair that can cause considerable problems for shorter people. If you need advice on this, please contact us here.
If the seat pan is too big, a footrest will most likely be required.
Do not bother with armrests - they cost more and are ergonomically pointless. Armrests encourage a slouched posture by rounding the shoulders. Furthermore, they often prevent the chair from being able to be pushed in properly, which causes additional problems by encouraging your employees to lean forwards in their chair.
How can The Ergonomic Physio help?
Purchasing new furniture and equipment for your office is an expensive task. As such, it is a good idea to ensure it is done right the first time. Moreover, there are OHS legal obligations that each organisation has to ensure that their employees' workspace is safe and without risks.
Our Office Design Consultancy service aims to save our clients thousands of dollars in the long run, by eliminating the guess work involved in purchasing ergonomic furniture, ensuring that you only purchase what is necessary from the outset, and that all of your furniture meets the highest safety standards.
If you require assistance with your office design, or require advice regarding appropriate ergonomic furniture, please contact us on (03) 9088 2003.
Written by Jordan Lees, Occupational Physiotherapist and OHS Consultant.
Over the past 4 years, I have performed around 1000 ergonomic assessments in my capacity as an OHS Consultant and Occupational Physiotherapist. A common style of standing desk that I often see in offices is an on-desk unit, such as the Varidesk or Ergotron.
Until about two to three years ago, I commonly recommended such on-desk units to my own consulting clients. The main reason for this was that on-desk units were often the only affordable option available for the majority of organisations.
This isn't the case anymore, and as a result, I now steer my clients towards electric standing desks, or even manual hand crank standing desks. These options are more preferable to on-desk units from an ergonomic, and health and safety perspective, for the reasons that are outlined below.
Why are electric standing desks preferable to on-desk units?
Following are eight key health and safety reasons why I don't recommend on-desk sit-stand units and instead encourage my clients to purchase electric standing desks:
1) If you are getting a standing desk for an employee with a back injury, on-desk units have the potential to exacerbate their injury, due to the fact they will need to lean forwards and exert force through their back to grasp the levers to change the height.
2) The height range of an on-desk unit is extremely limited, with the majority of models only being suitable for individuals who have a height of approximately 175cm or below.* Those who are taller than 175cm are likely to lean forwards to reach the keyboard tray, increasing the likelihood of injury or pain.
3) When sitting, the on-desk unit increases the static height of the desk. The average office desk in Australia is already too high for the majority of people. The additional height increases the likelihood of shoulder and neck discomfort, due to the need to hunch the shoulders to get the forearms parallel with the desktop. It also increases the likelihood of back pain developing, as the individual is more likely to lean forwards.
4) Good quality electric standing desks allow you to save and pre-set your desired sitting and standing height, so that you can accurately switch between the heights with the press of a button. This is important because using a standing desk at the wrong height is counter-productive and may actually introduce new problems. On-desk units do not have this function.
5) The keyboard tray on the on-desk units is often too small for the keyboard and mouse to fit in the correct spot.
6) The flimsiness of the keyboard tray makes it difficult to properly rest the wrists when using the keyboard and mouse. This typically results in the individual needing to hold their forearms off the keyboard tray, increasing the likelihood of shoulder and neck discomfort.
7) The general bulk of the on-desk unit means it is near impossible to do any handwriting on the desk.
8) The bulk of the on-desk unit often results in an increased amount of clutter on the desk. Clutter encourages the individual to sit further away from their desk, making it very difficult to make the most of their chair, as well as increasing the likelihood of pain or discomfort developing due to leaning forwards.
What about the cost?
One of the key reasons many organisations have purchased on-desk units in the past has been due to financial constraints. High quality electric standing desks have typically been too expensive, meaning the less preferable on-desk units were the only option for many organisations.
However, this isn't the case anymore.
To address the problem of over-priced standing desks I founded a company called UpDown Desk Pty Ltd. With UpDown Desk, the middleman and expensive retail overheads have been eliminated, meaning our standing desks go straight from the manufacturer to the customer. The result is a saving of up to $400 on comparable standing desks around Australia.
The electric standing desk frames sold by UpDown Desk are now cheaper than the less preferable on-desk units. The two most common on-desk units that I have previously recommended are the Varidesk Cube Plus 40 and the Ergotron Workfit TL. A quick search on Google showed that the Varidesk option now costs $650, whilst the Ergtron option costs around $775. There is also another Varidesk option for those who a bit taller, the Varidesk Exec 48, which costs $875. Regardless of the model, these prices have increased considerably over the past 3 years.
Comparatively, the UpDown Desk electric standing desk frame starts at $650, with further discounts being available for clients of The Ergonomic Physio as well as for bulk orders.
If you would like further information about standing desks, or the discounts available to our clients, please contact The Ergonomic Physio via the contact page here. If you would like more information about UpDown Desk, please visit their website at www.updowndesk.com.au.
* based off the average office desk being a height of 72cm.
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