On Office Chairs
The word ‘ergonomic’ has now been added to the active vocabulary of office workers. Every chair manufacturer calls his chairs, particularly the expensive ones, ‘ergonomically’ designed. The theory underlying this is that human bodies come in different sizes and proportions and no single design of chair can fit all human beings. The ‘ergonomic’ chair should therefore be one which can be adjusted to suit the shape of individual bodies. The more adjustable the chair is, the greater the number of people it will fit. This logic does not take into account the fact that office workers who spend long hours in a chair, suffer back problems due to poor sitting posture. While a badly designed chair makes it impossible for the user to sit properly, people may sit badly even in good chairs. The effects of sitting posture being felt only after a long time, people are unable to judge the correctness of their posture. Most office workers are in fact unaware of the relationship between sitting posture and back problems. They have no way of knowing what a good posture is and even less of knowing what a good chair should be.
Look at the chairs that are selected. If people get past considerations of price and looks, they will sit in different chairs for about 30 seconds each and decide in favour of the one that ‘feels’ most comfortable. This is usually a well padded chair. There is no reason for anyone to believe that a chair that feels comfortable is in fact going to be good in the long term. The more choosy ones look at the features a chair offers, particularly its adjustability. How can anyone be sure that each office worker will adjust his/her chair in the correct way? Look critically and you will find that in any office, at least half the chairs would be wrongly adjusted for height and seat angle.
What is a good chair anyway? To my mind one that provides back support and encourages the user to sit in a healthy straight-back posture. A chair that makes one feel active and does not constrict blood circulation in the legs. These factors cannot be judged by anyone within 30 seconds of chair testing time. A minimum test for a chair should last the duration of a whole working day.
Worst are the chairs which have been designed for Europeans and Americans and which are now being reproduced in India. Since the average European is taller than the average Indian, these chairs end up being too high. The manufacturers claim that the height adjustable is not acceptable because the average Indian has to use it in the lowest setting and the short Indian cannot use it at all. Chairs with “spring” backs or spring tilt seats are almost as bad. Once the springs loose their tension, the chairs offer no back support. Chairs with a lot of soft cushions “feel” comfortable but loose their shape in no time.
The best chairs are those with firm seats and backs, an adjustable seat height and a floating back. Castors are a must if you need to move about quickly. My own personal favourite is an antique wood framed chair with a cane seat and contoured cane back. The seat is not deep enough for anyone to slouch in this chair. It grips your sides and supports the back. It may not be wide enough for really heavy people but with no adjustments, for most people this chair is surprisingly comfortable.