Comfort in Office Seating: A Neglected Criterion?

Posted by: Mitchell H. Kirsch 1 comments

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)

In dollar terms, says Jeffress, ” $1 of every $3 spent on workers’ compensation stems from insufficient ergonomic protection. The direct costs attributable to MSDs are $15 to $20 billion per year, with total annual costs reaching $45 to $54 billion.”

Comfort Saves Money

Inversely, paying attention to comfort and ergonomics in office seating can save you money in the long run. Insurance company Travelers Property Casualty set up an internal ergonomics program, which reduced the average cost of an MSD claim from $20,000 to $4,600.

Travelers also surveyed 85 Travelers-insured workers who had filed claims at small companies for MSD. After suggesting simple improvements, ranging from footrests to new office seating, Travelers checked back 60 days later. They found that, in 53 out of 61 cases where employers took action, workers had become symptom-free. In 24 cases where companies had taken no action, 23 injured workers still had the same old problems.

Speaking of saving money, increasing comfort need not cost a lot of cash. You don’t need to buy entirely new office seating, for instance, if you can make adjustments on your present chairs.

Little Adjustments, Big Difference

Seat adjustments should be made to permit feet to be planted firmly on the floor. Absent brand new office seating, a footrest can be placed to make sure feet are planted on a firm foundation. Chair back angles and lower back support should also be adjusted to support the back.

Apart from office seating adjustments, attention should be paid to keyboard height and slope – keyboard should be placed near elbow height, and wrists should be in a neutral position when typing. (Read more on How to Choose the Best Ergonomic Keyboard for Your Office.)

These changes demonstrate what you can do in the context of your existing office seating. Tim Shew, an office ergonomics representative from the University of British Columbia, says it best. “Whether it’s your backrest angle, monitor height or just remembering to get out of your seat every hour, ergonomics doesn’t need to be a complete office overhaul,” advises Shew. “Small changes really can make a difference.”

Feb 12, 2011
9:59 pm

Wow, the numbers from Travelers Property Casualty are particularly impressive. If more employers knew that they could not only prevent WC claims but actually eliminate existing symptoms they would probably jump at the chance to invest in better furniture (or make the adjustments you suggest). These statistics also indicate that workers aren’t just malingering – they really are experiencing pain from poor ergonomics that is alleviated when an employer takes corrective action.

Daisy McCarty

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