As I type this, I'm leaning back in a recliner with my laptop propped up on one knee. It's comfortable in the moment, but if I did it for long, this position would wreak havoc with my back, arms and legs. Ideally, I should be in the "neutral" position sitting up straight with my knees and elbows bent at ninety degree angles. And I should be sitting in a chair that supports this position. Like writers, office workers who have to sit at a keyboard for long periods of time desperately need chairs that are comfortable to sit in and provide the proper support.
So what should you look for in an office chair? First, because office workers come in all different shapes and sizes, the seat height of the chair should be easily adjustable. The worker's feet should rest flat on the ground with the thighs horizontal to the ground. This neutral position takes strain off the knees and hips.
The seat cushion, or pan, needs to be at least one inch wider than the hips and buttocks on either side. This may mean purchasing a bariatric chair for larger employees, but nobody can be productive when they're being smashed into a chair too tiny for their frames.
The seat cover of the chair should be well padded to allow for long hours of sitting comfortably. Although vinyl covers are easy to care for and resistant to most spills and food drips, they can get hot and sticky. Breathable cloth covers are kinder to the body.
Another important thing to look for in an office chair is how well it supports the lumbar or lower back region. The lower back has a natural curve to it. However when workers slouch in their chairs, they straighten the lower back, straining muscles and making themselves vulnerable to injury. The best office chairs support the curvature of the lower back and prevent slouching. Like the chair's height, the back rest should be easily adjustable.
Not all office chairs have armrests. Some ergonomics experts even consider them a liability since workers may inappropriately lean their forearms on the armrests while keyboarding. If you do choose a chair with armrests, it should provide light support to the elbows and lower arms, allowing them to remain in a neutral position.
A new and very different type of office chair that is gaining in popularity is the ergonomic ball chair. These chairs consist of an inflatable round or egg-shaped ball that sits on coasters for easy mobility. Most of these chairs do not offer a back rest, since balancing oneself on the ball keeps the back in the optimal position. Since these chairs are fairly new, the jury is still out on comfort and injury prevention.
Whatever kind of chair you decide to buy, don't rush into a decision. Take some time at least fifteen minutes, preferably half an hour or more to sit in the chair and familiarize yourself with its features. Selecting the right office chairs for you and your workers is an important step towards keeping your workplace injury free.
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