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Buying the right Computer Chair

I needed to buy office supplies so I went to my local office supply store. I picked out some paper, tape, and pens. Then I gravitated toward the chair section of the store.

As I was walking around looking at the abundance of chairs, a middle-aged couple came up to me and asked, "We need to buy a chair but we're not sure what to buy, what do you recommend?"

Earlier I saw them sitting in and trying chairs - they looked like Goldilocks moving from chair to chair. Most of the chairs were too big for their size. These chairs would force them to balance their body by leaning to the side onto their forearm, which can cause ulnar nerve problems.

I replied, "What is the purpose for the chair?" Without hesitation they said, "To sit on!" as they looked at me in a quizzical manner. I explained that some people might use a chair daily for less than an hour, while paying bills and going through mail. I asserted that this type of chair user would need a simple dimensional chair. Some people want a chair for looks while others want a chair for comfort.

They spoke up and proudly said "I will be sitting on it for several hours a day while using the computer." "I enjoy using the computer to stay in touch with family and friends and I learn so much from the internet."

I looked at their anthropometrics (body dimensions) and said that there are about 85 chairs in the showroom one size does not fit all, and we would find the optimum chair.

From the sea of chairs I pulled aside chairs that matched their size. None of the Executive Chairs (due to popliteal height) or chairs using cardboard in the seat or backrest or cheap low-density foam would be of benefit.

We also separated out all chairs that did not have adjustable arms. Lack of arms or worst yet, arms that don't adjust to your needs can risk the health of your muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, joints, cartilage, or spinal discs from being overstressed. Remember, ergonomic pain occurs from a cumulative effect, over time.

We sorted out 15 potential chairs (from 85) that met our criteria. Of these 15 chairs we removed those that were easy to pick up off the floor (if it weighs little - it's too brittle) and any that had thin metal going from the backrest into the chair mechanism under the chair.

I asked "how long do you want the chair to last in good working order?" They said at least four years. I recommended purchasing a chair that is ANSI/BIFMA approved. This would ensure that the chairs have been tested for: durability of back, seat impact, tilt mechanism, arm strength etc.

Chairs that are not ANSI/BIFMA approved often use 2 or 3 small bolts to attach the armrest to the chair, causing the armrest to easily shear off.

This left two chairs of the 85 that we reviewed. Now I asked them to look at the warranty. The warranty read: "We will replace unaltered non-moving metal components or chair frame which in our opinion is defective." I thought, don't almost all parts of the chair move? And what is meant by "in our opinion"? They asked how would they ship the chair back to the manufacturer for warranty?

I stated that 25 minutes had passed and no one from the store offered us any help, so it may be difficult to get the answers. They said "don't you work here?" I said, "No, I'm Ergoman at your service, I'm able to make you ergonomically correct!"

Remember these "Goldilocks" tips when looking for a chair:

  • One size does not fit all
  • Match the chair to your use
  • Match the chair to your size, stature, popliteal height, etc.
  • Look out for cardboard in the back rest and seat support
  • Beware of low-density foam
  • Use chairs with adjustable arms
  • If it weighs little - it's too brittle
  • ANSI/BIFMA approval gives you peace of mind; read the warranty
  • Buy your ergonomic equipment from someone that can explain why the equipment is ergonomically correct.

By Dave Pfeil
Ergonomic Strategist

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