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Unraveling the mystery of the ergonomics

It is unlikely you could strike up a conversation about office furniture without the term “ergonomic” being used. We all know the term is important but most of us don’t really understand what it truly means or at least what it should mean.

The Oxford dictionary definition of Ergonomic –

“the study of working conditions, especially the design of equipment and furniture, in order to help people work more efficiently.”

My concern is that with ergonomics becoming such a mainstream concept that there are many within the office furniture field espousing concepts that are outdated and incorrect. Unfortunately the industry is not regulated and anyone can call themselves an ergonomic expert and advise consumers on anything from chairs, desks, monitors, workplace setup etc.

Ergonomics should be a regulated industry. There should be guidelines and agreed standards regarding furniture design if it is to call itself ergonomic. People advising consumers should have a minimum level of understanding of biomechanics (physical movement) if they are to make recommendations that have serious health implications. Until this happens it is important people are informed as much as possible about the importance of correct ergonomic principles in the workplace and their impact on us. 

In our current online world most of us spend long periods at our desk. Far longer than our parents or grandparents did. This means any workplace setup that we put in place will be used for much longer periods of time than it would have in earlier times. If this setup is poorly designed for our bodies and our current work needs it will have a huge impact on our health and how our body wears over time.

Ergonomic considerations for your office 

  • Furniture in a workspace must be body friendly minimising the stress and strain placed on it as the person works. Our bodies weren’t designed to sit for the long periods we do each day (anything up to 15 hours according the Australian Heart Foundation). We need to ensure this time places as little stress on our frame and system as possible.
  • It must be comfortable. Science and theory are wonderful but unless our work environment is comfortable we won’t use it and it defeats the purpose.
  • It must suit the particular needs of the job or task. If the job is purely sedentary such as an accountant or clerical office job it should be approached very differently to a job where mobility is important such as a laboratory, security or a clinician. So the furniture solutions applied should be tailored for the particular needs of the users. Obviously space and budget are other crucial variables. 
  • The furniture should maximise the use of the hands and enhance your fine motor skills for the user. For example when we slump or recline back in our chair as we work, the muscles controlling our arms and hands are a long way from where we are working dramatically reducing our level of control. This position also puts undue strain on these muscles and the back.

It is important significant thought is put into workplace setup and furniture selection and placement. I will be releasing more detailed information to consider over the coming months but in the meantime some important things to keep in mind when setting up an office, home office or workstation include:

    • If your chair has a flat base such as one of the ones shown you can’t sit properly for more than a few minutes. You should consider other options at least for part of your day. If this is your primary chair look to have a station where you stand or sit in a more ergonomic chair to do particular tasks. Break up your day.
    • Your desk or workstation wherever possible should be height variable. Ideally spend part of your day standing and part sitting on a genuine e ergonomic option.
    • Desk height, monitor height, keyboard and mouse placement are all important considerations.
    • Ideally part of your desk should tilt at least 15 degree. This prevents you towering over the desk which puts undue stress on your back.  
    • Remember when you're sitting in a regular chair none of your muscles are working optimally. The muscles on your back are contracting statically and working very hard all day long. Basically every other muscle in your body is idle all day long. Neither of these are good for your health and over time will certainly lead to significant problems  down the track. Regular mini breaks are extremely important and a basic office exercise program advised.

There are a lot of variables to take into account when designing your work environment or making small adjustments to your current one. Make sure whoever is advising you has some background and understanding in how the human body best functions. Look at the options out there and ask questions.

Remember the diagram below showing a 90° angle at the waist, knees and ankles is a myth and something we need to move away from. We will summarise much of the research which shows why this is a myth in subsequent blogs. Often we are limited in the changes we can make to our workplace regulated by finances, space, opportunity etc. you still can make the most of what you have and what you may be able to acquire. If you have any questions about workplace setup and ergonomic principles please reach out.


David France



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