What Makes Office Furniture 'Ergonomic?'
The office is becoming more ergonomic. We always hear that this desk or that chair is ergonomic, and it usually has an accompanying price tag to match. It is clear that something being "ergonomic" is a good thing, but what exactly does that mean? Let's break it down.
AIS Ergonomic Task Chair
We'll start with the actual word, 'ergonomics.' Like many words in the English language, it can be broken down into its Greek roots. 'Ergonomics' is a melding of the Greek word, "ergon" and "nomos." Ergon refers to work, function and task, while nomos refers to natural law, regarding human behavior. Put them together and you get ergonomics.
“Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”
International Ergonomics Association Executive Council, August 2000
So what makes something 'ergonomic?' Clearly, ergonomic design takes the daily wear and tear of workplace duties on the human body into account. When it comes to office furniture, the key to ergonomics is adjustability.
Every human body is built differently, so the standard "one size fits all" doesn't always apply, especially with furniture that is used 5 days a week for 8 hours a day. The study of ergonomics has determined that there are many ways to minimize harm to the human body by making changes to the environment that we interact with. Here are some examples.
Maintain the "S-curve" of the spine, including neck alignment.
Keep elbows at sides.
Keep wrists in neutral position.
Work at proper heights, keeping the work surface at elbow level and feet on the ground.
As mentioned, this isn't a consistent answer to this, as all humans are shaped differently. Because of this, when choosing office furniture for your work spaces, keep your options open and pick something that adjusts to you.
Most office chairs these days are built with at least a bit of adjustability to account for this. For example, many chairs come with the ability to adjust the seat height, armrest height, tilt, lumbar, back height, seat depth, and more. These features are all built on the idea of ergonomics: that the environment one works in is minimally harmful to the user.
Additionally, there are many ways to make a desk ergonomic. The most ergonomic desk by far is the Adjustable-Height Desk. These desks will not only adjust to the perfect height for sitting, but have a wonderful range that usually extends to a standing height that has the capacity to match the user perfectly. Another way to make a work surface ergonomic is by introducing keyboard trays, or other height-altering equipment like monitor stands.
Avoiding pressure points in another key component to ergonomics in the workplace. For example, if your seat is too high, your legs might be dangling, or be pushing up on the bottom of the work surface. This puts a lot of pressure on particular parts of your legs and can cause harm if repeated.
Another example is with the keyboard or mouse. If your wrists are resting on the corner of your surface, your elbows are probably too low. The pressure that the corner puts on your wrists can cause harm in the long run. To alleviate the issue if you can't adjust the actual height of the work surface or seat, wrist rests can be made that sit in front of your keyboard or mouse that reduce the pressure your wrists are put under.
Ultimately, an ergonomic piece of office furniture accounts and compensates for the natural position of the human body, minimizing harm to the user by allowing for adjustability and comfort. If you're looking to reduce pain and strain in the office, ergonomics is the way to go. The best ways to do that is to get chairs that are highly adjustable to accommodate the user's body shape, and to get desks that have an adjustable-height to match the user's preferences.