Proper Ergonomic Seating: How Do You Measure Up?

Ergonomic seating can be a real health issue. People who have to sit down at work for long periods, particularly in busy work environments, can be put at risk of serious injury by poor ergonomics.

The basic ergonomic problem with seating is support, but it's also a matter of providing good support while in active movement. This is one of the hard to learn elements of ergonomics. You may feel perfectly supported at rest, sitting in a chair, and be off balance the moment you start work.

What happens is that your center of gravity shifts. That puts extra weight on the active parts of your body. Your spine, joints and muscles have to react to the change in balance.

When you're working hard, ergonomics may not be what's on your mind. One of the great ergonomic risks in the workplace is that all that physical effort can do some damage, and you're not even aware of it until after it's done. You need to set yourself up properly before you start doing anything.

Check your chair

A chair in good condition is required for good ergonomics.

Do not use chairs which have these faults:

  • The seat base moves from side to side when you sit in it.
  • The back is unstable or off center.
  • Arm rests are loose.
  • You have to keep rebalancing yourself when moving.
  • The seat support seems to move around.
  • Casters or chair legs are loose.
  • The seat cushions are uneven.

Finding the right measures:

Chair height:

Start with the height of your chair. Your feet should rest comfortably on the floor. Do not raise the chair to the extent your feet are dangling. You can't balance yourself properly in that situation.


The backrest should be supportive, but not intrusive. It shouldn't be forcing you to lean forward or interfering with natural movement. If you can't adjust the backrest so it's providing passive support, get an ergonomic back support cushion. The cushion should be in good condition, and provide a comfortable, firm, support which is consistent and doesn't require constant adjustment during use.

Chair position:

A big issue in ergonomics is reach around the workstation from the chair position. You should be close enough to reach everything comfortably, without unusual movements, shifting balance, or strain. This is particularly important regarding any equipment you use regularly, like computer keypads. The classic cause of Repetitive Strain Injury is a piece of equipment like a keypad or cash register, where you're doing a lot of rapid movement, and in the wrong ergonomic position.

Proof is required

A chair may feel OK after being set up, but the only real certainty is to test it in a work situation.

  • Do 15 minutes of normal work, at normal speed.
  • Stop work, get out of the chair, and do a mild stretch of arms and legs.


  1. Any aches, particularly in the back and shoulders?
  2. Sore feet? Were you rebalancing with your feet a lot?
  3. Wrist pressure? Did you find yourself resting on your elbows or wrists, particularly when using a keyboard?
  4. Neck issues? Slightly stiff, or reacting to the work?
  5. Did you notice any unusual movements required to do your work?

Any of these symptoms mean some more adjustment is required. You should be able to work normally, and get up from your chair without experiencing discomfort of any kind.

Important: Even with good ergonomic setups, remember to take your ergonomic break of 5 minutes per hour. Stretch, relax, and refresh.