Ergonomic Office Furniture Pros and Cons

Ergonomic office furniture is one of the most important elements of the work environment. It was developed specifically to deal with many serious medical and Occupational Health and Safety problems which occurred during the introduction of computerized systems in the workplace. Use of ergonomic furniture is now standard practice around the world, but many issues remain.

Pros and cons

Chairs: Ergonomic chairs are one of the most important elements in the work environment. An ergonomic chair is fully adjustable to the user, and provides important spinal support, preventing strain caused by keyboard usage and prolonged repetitive movements.

Chairs must be suitable for the person using them, and that creates several situations that have to be addressed:

  • Very large or small people may require special chairs. They can't sit properly in standard chairs, and are at risk of injury.
  • People with chiropractic conditions must have special supports, and their needs should be discussed between the OHS officer and the chiropractor, to ensure minimal possibility of injury.
  • All users must check and adjust chairs for best ergonomic effects. A combination of height and reach is involved for best ergonomic usage. The seat should be comfortable, and all parts of the working area easily accessible from the chair.

Cons: Non-adjustable, or badly designed, office chairs are a hazard. When sitting, the user may experience:

  • Discomfort
  • Difficulty reaching things in the work space
  • Be pressed close to the desk, which places strains on the body.
  • Restricted movement, which places further strains on muscle groups as they react to the confined space.

During long periods of repetitive use, these chairs can cause injuries in a very short space of time.

Workstations and desks

Some workstations are excellent, with adjustable computer shelves and good layouts which allow users to access materials from their chairs easily. The basic "corner" shaped workstation is the best. They usually come with a suite of shelving made to measure.

Cons: Ironically, some of the more upmarket, glitzy designs for workstations and desks are serious ergonomic hazards. They have prevent obstacles for movement rather than space for movement:

Because they're hard, solid objects, they produce resistance to normal movements. The user, who may have elbows on the desk, puts pressure on the joints, and may experience significant discomfort when using a computer.  That can mean putting a lot of weight, over long periods of time, on the arm and elbow joints. 

Posture is also affected. This type of desk has virtually no real ergonomic features. It's basically a bench. Users must lean forward onto the desk, moving their spines. These problems can be circumvented to a point with a good chair, but when using any computer which involves hours of work, they're a problem waiting to happen.

How to tell if you've got an ergonomic problem

The essential principles of ergonomics are based on comfortable use. Office furniture is working properly ergonomically if:

  • You're not aching when arising from the work space.
  • You don't experience any ill effects like dizziness or feel sick after long periods of work.
  • Your balance and motor functions aren't impaired.
  • You don't feel unusually tired.