Like so many Americans, you probably work in an office, spending up to eighty hours a week sitting in an office chair, cranking out the numbers, diligently working and, contrary to what your boss thinks, not merely downloading youtube.com videos. Well, okay, there was that one isolated incident, but come on, everybody had to see that beat box flute guy clip, right? And like so many Americans, you probably spend these full time hours seated, oblivious to the fact that this seemingly benign activity, according to ergonomics-information.com, “exerts great stress on the back because it transfers the full weight of the upper body onto the buttocks and thighs.” Of course, you probably realize that something is up when your mid-back aches or feels numb, when your knees throb, when that midmorning headache has some extra bite. Typical chair design, most chairs in most work places, provide inadequate support for the seated body, which can lead to back pain, fatigue, and as a result, can decrease work performance.
But there is a science to the rescue: ergonomics. Not merely the concept of bending at your knees versus your back when lifting heavy objects, ergonomics is the science of “equipment design… intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort” (the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition). I guess it is comforting to know that somewhere in Sweden, there is a team of scientists thinking about sculpting and molding chairs that support the proper S-curve of the spine, as well as proper blood flow to the low back and buttocks. However, it is well documented that something as simple as proper ergonomic design reduces fatigue and minimizes the stress on the body. Workers with better posture, with chairs that support such posture will be able to do more, to be more productive, or to fly through Amazon.com in search of “Star Trek: the next generation” DVDs with extra verve.
What it boils down to is the concept of shaping the work environment, in this case the chair, to the needs of the worker and not the other way around. A brief perusal of ergonomic chairs may be a strange experience. They often look like lofty and uncomfortable apparatuses. For instance, the Australian Kneelsit ergonomic chair looks like a piece of exercise equipment: not only is its seat angled forward and down, but it features an additional pad to support the knees. But they seem to work well, according to their website, kneelsit.com, their funky looking chairs were short listed for the 1997 Australian Industrial Design Award. More to the point, the chair, and others like it, coerces the body into an open posture that supports the lumbar vertebrae. You can say goodbye to those aches and pains, and look forward to comfortable work days and a retirement without the need for a cane.
Of course, proper ergonomics, and the benefits associated with it go beyond chair design. It is advised that the office worker take occasional stretch breaks, stay hydrated, and rest the wrists. As I sit here, on a decidedly non-ergonomic stool at a coffee shop, I can actually feel some soreness in the shoulders, as well as a dull ache in my low back. As October is national ergonomics month, it is high time that I personally looked into a proper ergonomic chair. It would make one more efficient worker, and a host of happier Swedish ergonomic engineers.