Seat of Knowledge

Dec. 29, 2004
Answers to your questions on seating and ergonomics
What are the major advances in seating design in terms of ergonomics?Today’s ergonomic chairs are light-years ahead of workplace chairs created 15 years ago. “Modern chairs are easier to use, much easier to adjust – in a sense, the chair thinks for you,” says Alan Hedge, professor, department of design and environmental analysis, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Along with fewer controls, chairs have become more intuitive. How would a facility manager determine high-quality ergonomic chairs? “Just because there are some levers underneath the seat doesn’t mean the chair truly has ergonomic benefits,” says Niels Diffrient, industrial designer, Ridgefield, CT. Diffrient urges facilities mangers to research this topic and experiment with different furniture products to obtain the best fit for their companies.What mistake have you seen facilities and design professionals make when choosing ergonomic furniture?“The primary mistake is just buying an ergonomic chair. That is only part of the need; you have to have a table and related equipment to go with it,” explains Diffrient. Fortunately for heavy computer users, keyboards and other support devices have also evolved, allowing for tremendous flexibility in furniture configuration. Modern keyboards have become lighter and more responsive, and computer mice are more comfortable for the hand and wrist.Liquid crystal technology display screens, which are easier to adjust and view than cathode ray tubes, represent the next frontier in comfortable, healthy workspaces. The development of wireless technology presents potential benefits and drawbacks. While prolonged use of a laptop can be uncomfortable, an external keyboard, mouse, and laptop combination allows for greater comfort.“Now we are in a position where there is a lot of variety; where a professional can tailor the workplace to the company, the needs of the people, and the demands of the job in a way that we’ve never had before,” says Hedge. With this abundance of options, Hedge sees more organizations taking a proactive approach to worker health and productivity.Do you recommend that facilities managers test seating products in the workplace?While having end-users spend an extended period testing chairs is ideal, Diffrient is concerned that even a 2-week testing period will be inadequate if facilities managers do not educate themselves on human factors. Adds Diffrient, “People know surprisingly little about their own bodies, but if you are involved and spend time observing people, testing people, and checking the literature, you begin to understand the way the body works.”A final word to facilities managers on ergonomics?Good ergonomics makes good business sense. “Remember, the goal of ergonomics is not to deal with sick people; the goal is to create effective workplaces,” says Hedge. By focusing on the true goal of human factors research, facilities professionals can accommodate changing technology and create truly successful work environments.Regina Raiford Babcock ([email protected]) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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