Office workers spend approximately 7.9 hours a day sitting at their desks. We’ve already talked about the importance of an Ergonomic Chair but, for total comfort, you need to ensure it fits the individual as best as possible.
Most offices have standard furniture, with uniform desks and chairs, etc, but correct ergonomic set-up is all about adjusting work areas to suit the individual. Firstly, it’s important to recognise that common ‘ergonomic problems’ – e.g. neck, shoulder, elbow or wrist pain – are not usually the result of any specific or significant injury, but usually arise as a result of furniture, particularly chairs, being badly adjusted or particular tasks being performed incorrectly over a long period of time. Similarly, small adjustments to the way your employees sit and work at their desks which will help prevent development of these types of aches and pains.
To get you started, we’ve put together some advice to help you assess whether you’re the chairs in your office are helping, or hindering your employees when it comes to sitting comfortably.
First and foremost, it is essential to have the correct type of chair. Regardless of finish or design, your chairs needs to have these basic features:
- both the back rest and seat height should be adjustable
- they should have a well-padded seat
- hey should have a 5-point base with castors (providing floor is carpeted);
- Adjust the seat height so that your wrists (when resting on the desktop) are at the same height as, or slightly below, your elbows (i.e., elbows at 90 angle).
- When seated, your hips should be at right angles
- Are your feet flat on the floor? If not, it’s time to get a footrest.
- Adjust the angle of the backrest: generally it is best to have the backrest at a 90 degree angle to encourage you to sit upright.
- Adjust the height of the backrest. Modern office chairs have an outward curve in the lower part of the backrest that is designed to mould into the inner curve each of us has in our lower back. If the backrest is too high or too low, this outward curve of the chair will feel as though it is digging in to your back. If the backrest is at the right height, you should be able to slide your hand behind your back and not notice any gaps.
- Chair backrests come in different heights. Ideally the backrest should come to a height just under your shoulder blades. Those with taller frames may need a chair with a higher backrest than someone who is shorter.
- When sitting your back should rest against the back rest with your backside right back into the chair. Sitting on the edge of the chair causes greater strain to your back muscles. Don’t slouch forward – this works against your back’s natural curves.
- Make sure that your chair moves easily over the floor when moving away from the desk. If your floor is carpeted, you may need to look at using a plastic floor mat.
But this is just the start. It’s also imperative to ensure you are sitting correctly, by adjusting the chair accordingly. As most of us sit at non-adjustable desks, making sure the chair is adjusted correctly is the first thing you should look at. The following adjustments are recommended to keep everyone sitting in the best position to minimise aches and strains.
So, if you want to keep your employees comfortable and reduce the incidence of work-related repetitive strain injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders, we suggest you work through the checklist above and follow the advice to make the necessary adjustments to your chairs.
The most important thing, however, is to ensure employees work in a relaxed, neutral and supported position. Avoid static shoulder elevation while at your desk by regularly “shrugging” your shoulders to relieve muscles and avoid prolonged periods sitting in one position or performing the same task. Breaks from your desk are important to ensure variety between the muscles and joints being used and the muscles and joints being rested. Try ways to break up your sitting and add in more standing or walking where possible. For example, try standing up while on the phone or have a stand-up meeting. Take regular breaks away from your desk, even walking from office to office can help.
Finally, it goes without saying (although we will anyway!) that it’s just as important to spend less time sitting outside of work. The average adult sits for 90% of their leisure time, so it seems there is some room for improvement. You don’t have to stand or walk for 100% of your leisure time of course, as sitting is very comfortable. But try to find a healthy balance between sitting and other physical activities. Your body will thank you for it.