Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority)

By on 3rd Jul 2015

A while ago, I wrote the article How do I choose an office chair (for myself)? At the time, I promised to follow up soon with an article about choosing a chair for a whole department or organisation. It’s taken longer than planned, but this is that article! A further blog about choosing specialist chairs for individuals in the workplace will follow in a few days.

Chair For Majority | Osmond Ergonomics

Manufacturers of workplace seating often talk of products designed to accommodate 90% of the population: meaning everyone except the smallest 5% (5th percentile) and largest 5% (95th percentile).

In reality, this is nothing like as simple as it sounds. A 95th percentile individual is not necessarily made up of 95th percentile body segments and anthropometric (body dimension) data tells us, for example, that a 50th percentile male may be 13cm taller than a 50th percentile woman but is also 1cm narrower across the hips [Pheasant, S. (1986, 1998).  Bodyspace – Anthropometry, Ergonomics and the Design of Work]

In the modern multi-national office, different races complicate the statistics still further and, taking lateral dimensions into account, women change shape in different ways from men as their BMI (Body Mass Index) increases. As obesity becomes more of an issue, specifying a general workplace chair becomes even less straightforward.

It is, therefore, no wonder that many ergonomists believe that the majority of chairs may actually be closer to 60-70% in their accommodation!

How, then, does a conscientious Facilities or Health & Safety Manager ensure best practice?

The answer comes in two parts. First, choose your general chair carefully and, secondly, implement a procedure to provide for those who are not properly served by the general chair. This article addresses the first process.

Choosing a general chair will often involve compromise, whether because of budget constraints, corporate sourcing guidelines or perhaps just the limited knowledge of your incumbent chair supplier! It is most important, therefore, to minimise such compromise and maximise value.

The following are essential:

  • Create a focus group
  • Ensure it contains male and female personnel of different shapes and sizes and, if you have them, ethnic origins. They should also be different ages and from different parts of the business with varying job roles.
  • If possible, include some users with pre-existing physical disabilities and/or MSDs (musculoskeletal disorders).
  • Make sure you have right- and left-handers!
  • Involve your Health & Safety and Occupational Health personnel.
  • Draw up a shopping list of features your chair must include (e.g. seat slide, adjustable lumbar support, etc.).
  • Perhaps controversially, I believe that the criteria list should not include any price restriction at this stage. This should be considered later in the process.
  • Using the shopping list, identify a number of chairs from different manufacturers that all meet your criteria in full (no compromises at this stage).
  • Ensure that all the chairs on your list comply with the appropriate international (EN, ISO) standards. The supplier(s) should be able to provide this information and explain the relevance of the various standards issues.
  • Obtain at least one sample of each chair from your preferred supplier(s).
  • Ask the supplier(s) to demonstrate each chair and explain the features and benefits. As well as providing you with an understanding of the various models, this is a good opportunity to judge their knowledge and the likely level of support they will be able to provide in the selection process and subsequent customer support.
  • Design a score card so that each member of the focus group can rate each chair. As well as comfort, other factors such as ease of adjustment and range of adjustment should be included. You may also wish to score non-physical factors such as environmental considerations and whether the design reflects your corporate brand.
  • It is often a good idea to weight the scores for different elements. e.g. sustainability may be rated out of 10 points but the appearance may only be rated out of 5 points. If you decide to use weighting, make sure you do this before the assessment process begins!

If you do not have the experience or the time to operate such a process, find a good ergonomist to advise you and manage the process.

The foregoing procedure should enable you to create a shortlist of 3-4 chairs. This is the stage at which I would recommend introducing price considerations. Doing so will enable you to compare focus group scores with prices and give a more measurable indication of value. You will also be in a stronger negotiating position with your supplier(s) if they know the chair has been shortlisted!

Once you have a shortlist, it should be straightforward to select and purchase the best chair for your requirements. Since this is not an article about negotiating skills, I shall skip the rest of this process.

My next article outlines how to implement a procedure to provide for those who are not properly served by the general chairs.

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