Finding the Right Office Chairs for the Really Tall – and Really Small.

If you fit in regular office chairs, that puts you within “normal” body dimensions – the range of body types that fall between heights of 5’2″ and 6’2″, and weights of 120 to 300 pounds. Office workers who fall outside these outliers, though, are out of luck.

Designing office chairs for the whole range of body sizes may sound simple, but it’s not.  The variation in sizes and dimensions between the opposite ends of the mean suggests that office chairs designed for the “average” human body type causes discomfort to a large subset of the population. Designing office chairs only to the average means that the long tails of the body-fit bell curve – the tall, wide, or diminutive – have to work in less than optimal conditions.

For shorter folk, their feet may dangle from their office chairs, when the OSHA specifies that feet must be able to lay flat on the floor for optimal comfort. For more generously-sized individuals, regular-issue office chairs may be too cramped or permit too little movement.

Over time, the bad fit can become a quality of life problem that affects productivity and increases operating costs needlessly.

Office Chairs That Solve the Problem

To solve the conundrum, facility managers and employees need to exert a little more ingenuity to get the office chairs and system furniture that fit their unique size needs. (Read more)

Comfort in Office Seating: A Neglected Criterion?

Affordability and durability may be your top criteria for office seating… but what role does comfort play in determining what office seating to buy for the workplace? In today’s cost-conscious world, most people look at the price tag before they check how easy each chair is on the user… but it’s important to remember that comfort levels have very real effects on your bottom line.

Consider what happens when comfort is taken entirely out of the picture. We’ve talked about musculo-skeletal disorders (MSDs) before – these injuries are the cumulative effects of repetitive actions done in the workplace. Over time, if such actions aren’t mediated by a more comfortable workplace, an MSD may be in the worker’s future – leaving the employer vulnerable to workers’ compensation claims.

Dollars and Cents of MSD

Charles Jeffress, the former assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health in the U.S. Department of Labor, breaks the cost of MSDs down: “Nearly two million workers suffer work-related musculoskeletal disorders every year, and about 600,000 lose time from work as a result,” Jeffress said in 2000. (read more)

Ergohuman: Bang-for-your-Buck Ergonomic Office Chairs.

[Image © Ergohuman, all rights reserved.]

Ergonomic office chairs have an undeserved reputation of being expensive. This has prevented many office managers from investing in office chairs that may help prevent the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries.

With the introduction of Ergohuman ergonomic office chairs, office managers now have a mid-price contender: a less pricey alternative to expensive ergonomic office chairs that delivers the goods nonetheless.

When compared with our list of criteria for the best ergonomic office chairs, the Ergohuman acquits itself quite nicely. (read more)

Materials For Office Seating – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

Executives can choose from a variety of materials for their office seating requirements. Traditional fabric chairs are quickly being supplanted by classier materials like leather, or more exotic materials, from simple vinyl upholstery to space-age mesh office seating.

But why choose one material over the other? What advantages and disadvantages do mesh, leather, and vinyl have over each other? If you’re graduating from fabric office chairs, what material should you choose?

Mesh Office Chairs – Breathability and Comfort Go Together

Mesh Office Seating – Good. Mesh office chairs are designed with one purpose in mind – to allow air to circulate between areas “covered” by the user, the seat and the back. This provides a high level of comfort, and prevents sweat and odor build-up (as moisture is allowed to evaporate through the office seating).

Mesh office chairs are known to stay fresh, even after years of heavy use. If you work in a humid environment, or even a normal one, mesh office seating can be your most comfortable alternative.

Mesh Office Seating – Bad. The relative novelty of mesh office seating and the limitations of the material constrict the types of design available for mesh office chairs. Unfortunately, all other material types boast of more designs and colors than do mesh office chairs.

Mesh Office Seating – Ugly. Finding the perfect balance between comfort and durability is an even bigger challenge where mesh chairs are concerned. As we’ve explained in an earlier article, mesh chair users are stuck between the compromise that designers have to strike: soft mesh is more comfortable, but sags quicker; stiff mesh is less comfortable, but lasts longer.

More after the jump. (read more)

Fact and Fiction: Unconventional Office Chairs and Your Health.

Anybody who gives a damn about their own health needs to take a long, hard look at how office chairs affect their well-being. In fact, many do – growing concern about the health implications of office chairs has spurred growing sales in ergonomic chairs, exercise balls, office exercise videos, and more.

But this swelling growth industry has also created plenty of noise: bad advice about health and office chairs has mixed in with the few good nuggets, and many conscientious consumers are endangering their own health in the process.

Much of the hype has to do with unconventionally-designed office chairs – using kneeling chairs in the office, for instance, or repurposing exercise balls for use as desk chairs. This site, among others, claims that exercise balls improve spine alignment, provide room for stretching, and “burns 350 calories a day”.

Exercise Ball Reality Check

Here’s your reality check: exercise balls do not offer a significant improvement in posture when used as office chairs. As the New York Times’ Anahad O’Connor reports, “As far as posture is concerned, there is not exactly a compelling body of evidence.”

O’Connor cites a 2009 British study that found prolonged sitting on an exercise ball caused the same level of slouching and “poor sitting position” compared to regular office chairs. The study concludes: “No benefits were found through sitting on [an exercise] ball over that of [office chairs] in prolonged sitting as both seating types.”

A second study conducted by the Research Institute Move in the Netherlands “concluded that the advantages with respect to physical loading of sitting on an exercise ball may not outweigh the disadvantages.”

Kneeling Chairs: No Better?

The same thing might be said of kneeling chairs, the substitute-for-office-chairs-du-jour for a growing number of lumbar-conscious office workers.

In a study conducted for the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, Mats Ericson and Ian Goldie found that spinal shrinkage levels were greatest for workers using kneeling office chairs. A study for Applied Ergonomics journal concluded that as far as posture was concerned, kneeling chairs were “no better than conventional chairs and could be worse than well-designed conventional office chairs.”

The Ergonomics Report’s Jeanie Croasmun has the final word:

Just like a hammer might be a valuable tool for some tasks (hanging a picture), in others (washing dishes) it’s useless or may do more harm than good. The exercise ball might be great for strengthening and toning in the gym or at home, but it can’t compete with a truly ergonomic chair for long-term sitting in an office environment.

Workers using kneeling chairs and exercise balls as office chairs have one thing in common, says John Triano: “both of these alternatives require more active use of one’s muscles (e.g. for balance and to sit upright) than a traditional office chair.” While Triano does not discount these alternative office chairs outright, he recommends that you get a doctor’s approval before use.

Customizable ergonomic office chairs, the type recommended by the National Institutes of Health, remain your best healthy-back bet. The NIH offers six properties to look for in an ergonomic chair – while these may be pricier than exercise balls or regular office chairs, the savings you’ll get from not seeing your back doctor on an ongoing basis definitely offsets the cost.

Where do Office Chair Designers Get Their Inspiration?

Now THIS is an original office chair – office furniture concern Herman Miller recently unveiled their new SAYL chair. Designer Yves Behar found his inspiration from the cables and towers of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge; the office chair that resulted from Behar’s brainstorm looks original in every sense, despite being derived from an architectural icon known to millions.

The SAYL’s design is far from arbitrary – the wires and structure together comprise a revolutionary intelligent frameless back support that adapts more readily to a user’s motions and body shape, without stinting on the body support. In other words: this office chair boasts of both beauty and brains.

Finally – to soothe environmentalists – the SAYL office chair is created using 21% recycled content.

The SAYL office chair’s revolutionary design is no fluke – Herman Miller has long demonstrated how to transform the humble office chair into an outlet for design breakthroughs. In fact, where groundbreaking design is concerned, the company has long been a leader in the furniture industry.     (read more)