Office Chairs & Seating

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Office chairs, or perhaps the ergonomics of office chairs has provoked a great deal of debate since the coming of mass employment in offices after the industrial revolution, and more particularly since the dramatic increase in computer use as a result of the technology revolution.

The wisdom and advice surrounding the use of the "correct" office chair and its use with the "correct" posture are many and manifold. Some people maintain that cheap office chairs are equally as good for some people as the most expensive ergonomic office chairs. The history of the design of office chairs is peppered with engineers and a few doctors who put forward their designs based sometimes on some thin thinking. Other designs were criticised completely from a moral viewpoint which completely ignored any ergonomic benefits: Thomas E. Warren's "Centripetal Spring Chair", displayed at no less a venue than Britain's Great Exhibition in 1851, was criticised for being "too comfortable". The argument put forward by these Victorian moralists was that too much comfort was "immoral" and would lead to low productivity as well as low morals. For the Victorians, sitting with a rigid, upright posture on a hard surface was essential for maintaining a right and proper moral relationship with both your God and your work!

Our choice of office chair is often decided by a combination of aesthetics and comfortable usability. Some of us enjoy the prestige of a slick looking white office chair, or the classically styled look of an executive office chair or leather office chair.

So what should we be looking for before we buy office chair? Here are a few key points to bear in mind when choosing the perfect office chair.

Overall Comfort:

Providing your morals can handle it, make sure your chair is comfortable. We are all different and some of us have back problems, leg problems or even spinal problems. Whatever chair you choose make sure it feels comfortable and supportive for you. If you will be spending a long time sitting, as most of us do these days, perhaps you should choose a mesh office chair that allows air circulation and will be cooler. A Leather office chair can provide excellent all round support and gives a luxurious (and possibly immoral!) feel to sitting, while upholstered office chairs can provide better lumbar support.

Vertical Adjustment and Recline-Ability

When spending a long time in an office chair it is not just how the chair fits your body, but also how the chair places you in relation to your desk, screen, keyboard and mouse. Desks tend to come at a standard height, humans do not. Ensure you can adjust your chair vertically so you can achieve a comfortable posture that does not strain your back, arms, neck, eyes or legs.

If you chosen chair has armrests, make sure they will not become jammed under the desk or force you to sit too far from the desk, thereby causing unnecessary strain on your back. Incorrectly positioned armrests can cause problems. Ideally there should be an angle of about 90° at your elbows when typing, this will prevent hunching your back and shoulders which can cause sometimes serious problems if not corrected.

Ideally you should have your thighs parallel with the floor while your feet are flat on either the floor or a footrest. The depth of the seat, as measured from the back of the chair's seat to the front, should allow 4 to 8 centimetres gap from your legs to the front of the chair when you are seated comfortably all the way back in the chair. This allows for proper blood-flow between the legs and the rest of the body.

Check also that you can adjust the angle of your backrest. Many office chairs offer the ability to tilt backwards (and some slightly forwards also), but the fixed or neutral angle should ideally be set so that the angle from your thighs and hip to your shoulders should be around 90° to 120° (with the horizontal floor being 0°).

Lumbar Support

The world had to wait until the 1980's before office chairs offering lumbar, or lower back, support became standard and commonplace in the office. This occurred at the same time as the whole concept of ergonomics was gaining more and more acceptance, not least because of a huge increase in the number of complaints of office work strains and injuries.

The lumbar support pad should be vertically adjustable so it can be positioned correctly. It should also be curved so that it can provide support by following the natural curve in most people's backs.

How hard or soft is the lumbar support pad is another issue and your ideal chair should have an adjustable pressure range from hard to soft with the possibility of depth adjustment.

Swivelling and Moving

Again, this might not seem like such a big deal, but in today's fast moving office environment where we now often work surrounded by office equipment on two or three sides, it is important to be able to move around comfortably and quickly without having to rise from our chair. This is true whether it is a smaller "typist's" or task chair or larger executive office chairs.

The search for a comfortable office chair that is healthy to use and which does not cause strain on our uniquely different human bodies will continue. Arguments come and go regarding what is considered good and what is considered bad but at the end of the day, provided the chair can be properly adjusted, we as individuals will adjust our chair to suit what feels best for us during our busy and often long working days.

Of course we here at Seated have all the experience and helpful advice you will need to solve your office seating objectives. Whether you are looking for an ergonomic office chair or simply the best office chair for the director's suite, we are here to help and advise.

Call us on 02 9331 7747 or visit our Contact Us page and request a quote or book a trial. From large projects to individual requests our physiotherapist trained seating specialists can visit you onsite at work and provide you with the information you need to solve your seating objectives.

A History of (Ergonomic) Office Seating

The Egyptians appear to have the earliest records of seating that had been modified for a functional use. Around 7,500 BCE there are depictions of a three legged stool with a curved seat. The stool was angled slightly forward to facilitate easier hammering. Whether this was good or bad for the worker is not known. From this humble beginning the design of chairs then followed several different paths. There were, of course, thrones for Kings and Queens to sit on and more mundane offerings for the lesser humans.

Indeed, it is not until the Industrial Revolution took hold and created a whole new employment layer of office based workers that developments focussed on comfort and productivity. Particularly in America, engineers started to consider posture and freedom of movement in their designs and their resultant designs came to be called "patent Chairs" because these designers patented their offerings in the hope of cleaning up in their current office chair markets.

In 1849 Mr. Thomas E. Warren's splendidly named "Centripetal Spring Armchair" had all the features of a modern office chair except lumbar support. It was vertically adjustable, had a revolving seat and could be tilted not just forwards and backwards, but in any direction around 360°. It had armrests and some came with a headrest. As mentioned before, some more traditionalist members of the Victorian era deemed the chair to be "immoral" because it was too comfortable and the design never really took off outside America. It was, however, adapted for use as railway carriage seating, because its spring-loading was good at absorbing shocks.

Engineers and even some doctors during the late 19th century designed and produced specialist chairs for jobs such as dentists, surgeons, seamstresses and hairstylists. By this time in the USA the average barber's chair could be raised and lowered, swung around and tilted. Designs that included adjustable backrests, seat-height and tilting were offered but it is not until the 20th century that the office chair and its marriage to the concept of ergonomics really took off.

During the 1920s the idea that too much comfort for office workers promoted laziness still prevailed, however, there was a growing movement who recognised that continued extended sitting in an inappropriate posture caused injuries and ultimately affected production. In response this growing perception companies produced swivelling chairs and chairs with curved backrests. In the 1940s William Ferris marketed his "Do More Chair" not only as a solution for office workers but, he went on to claim, it would prevent a range of other ailments including haemorrhoids and constipation!

The Second World War gave the science of ergonomics the boost it needed to fix the concept as directly useful and important in people's minds. Warplane cockpits were redesigned in response to pilots working methods and posture, factory work was re-conceived to increase productivity while making it safer, easier and less straining on factory workers. In the world of office chairs, however, change was slow to come. The new "modern" designs, made from plastic, wire and wood, were replacing the overly ornate traditional European designs, but the modern offerings were still based more on aesthetics than ergonomics. In 1958 Herman Miller designed an adjustable office chair whose backrest and seat titled independently, but it was not until the 70s and 80s that office chair design became irrevocably tied to ergonomics.

The Ergon Chair was released in 1976 after a close collaboration between the Herman Miller factory in the US and William Stumpf, who had been studying posture in different situations at the University of Wisconsin. He had been working together with the University's orthopaedic and vascular medicine specialists.

This collaboration of specialists produced in 1976 the "Ergon Chair". This chair did not have many of the moving parts we now take for granted in an office chair, but it was the first to use moulded foam. This provided for the sitter a comfortable "cushy" feel while still providing good support: it was a chair designed using ergonomic principles.

The 1980s saw a massive increase in the use of computers in the office and by the 1990s virtually every office based employee in a company would be sat on an office chair in front of a computer and there was a correspondingly large rise in the number of workplace injuries being reported. Back-pain, lumbar problems, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) and a whole host of other problems began to make companies and corporations sit up (pun intended) and take notice. As a result there were a number of newly designed ergonomic chairs which provided a much wider range of posture and posture support. The "Hag Capisco" enabled the sitter to sit both sideways and backwards. The "Pos-Chair" made in 1985 by Jerome Congleton was designed using NASA research and offered a chair which supported a "natural, zero-gravity perching posture".

The Aeron Chair, another offering from William Stumpf, appeared in 1994. This chair included a moulded pad incorporated into the curvature of the backrest to support the lower back. It also "moved" with the sitter, reclining back when the sitter was, for example, talking on the telephone and leaning forwards with the sitter to continuously provide support when the sitter was typing. It was also sold in Small, Medium and Large sizes instead of the usual "executive" and "secretary' sizes. This was important in cementing the idea in people's minds that a chair should "fit" a person in the same was as clothes or a pair of shoes should fit someone. Other chair manufacturers acknowledged the wisdom of this approach and did the same thing.

These improvements in ergonomics, chair design and the wish to improve people's comfort and productivity was one set of factors driving ergonomic office chair design. The other factor was the sheer number of lawsuits that centred on workplace injuries. The world now accepted the undeniable fact that if design ergonomics were ignored and badly designed seating was provided for the people now working long hours before their computers, injuries and lawsuits would result. Companies now understand that a few hundred dollars invested in proper seating for employees can save a company a lot in both lost productivity and expensive lawyer's bills.

Get the Right Advice

From large projects to individual requests our physiotherapist trained seating specialists can visit you onsite, at work now. Visit our Contact Us page and request a quote, or try our Chair Selector to find an office chair perfectly suited to you.

Our 1 week trials are offered with no obligation. For our most popular chair ranges we can provide “New to trial chairs” in standard black fabric that can remain onsite if successful.

Limited or specialist ranges can also be trialled for one week, then if successful these can be made to order.

Call us today on 02 9331 7747 and let us make sure everyone is happily Seated.