The Science and Tech Behind Ergonomic Office Furniture

Ergonomics—the science behind the relationship between human efficiency and the things with which they interact in their working environments—remains incredibly important to the design of office furniture. Millions of workers spend upwards of 8 hours each day sitting in offices with poor ergonomics, leading them to experience health issues such as musculoskeletal disorders, back injuries, migraines, muscle imbalances, muscle strains, and fatigue. An investment in ergonomic office furniture is an investment in not only minimizing the risk of injury for employees, but also in increasing worker productivity overall. Ergonomic office furniture incorporates both science and technology into design in order to create workspaces that are both safe and healthy for its users.

Office Chairs

The office chair remains one of the key areas of focus of ergonomic design. Incorrectly sitting in a chair for too many hours at a time can cause intense strain on one’s lower back and shoulders. An ergonomic chair works to force the user to sit in a way that mitigates this stress on their body and corrects their posture. The key to designing an ergonomic office chair is to ensure that it accommodates all body types—regardless of weight—so that the user, not the chair itself, determines where pressure is distributed. Too much stress on pressure-sensitive areas can decrease blood flow and constrict blood vessels in the body, causing severe discomfort.

Using pressure mapping technologies, scientists can design chairs with contours and padding that encourage the sitter’s body away from these pressure-sensitive areas, minimizing the risk of injury and strain. In order to do so, the backrest of an ergonomic office chair should align with and mirror the user’s spine in order to prevent lumbar injuries. Poorly designed office chairs put pressure on the spinal vertebrae at the bottom of the lumbar curve which can often result in prolonged and harmful back pain. Therefore, it is critical that the backrest of a chair follow the natural curvature of the user’s spine.

The seat of an ergonomic office chair should support the sitter’s sacrum in order to stabilize their pelvis and should be adjustable so that their thighs are parallel to the ground. Sitting in a chair that is too high reduces circulation while sitting in a chair too low increases unnecessary pressure on the legs. The armrests of an ergonomic office chair should also be adjustable to allow the sitter’s arms to rest gently on them at a 90-degree angle in order to prevent slouching of the shoulders. Finally, the base of the chair should have casters that give the user freedom to swivel around, minimizing muscle strain from having to reach far for objects consistently throughout the workday.

Monitors

The viewing angle, distance, and height of computer monitors are also incredibly important factors to consider when designing an ergonomic office space. Improvements in ergonomic technology have allowed for the creation of advanced monitor “arms” that allow users to adjust monitor screens to the optimal positionings. Having to constantly tilt one’s head up or down to see a computer screen clearly can cause excessive strain on the muscles in the neck and shoulders. Because human eyes gaze downward when at rest, most monitors should be positioned at roughly 15 degrees below the user’s horizontal line of sight, preventing them from having to strain these muscles to see what is on the computer screen.

Additionally, ensuring an ergonomic viewing distance from one’s monitor is critical to reducing headaches and migraines due to eyestrain. In order to minimize muscular exertion on the eyes due to the accommodation reflex, monitors should be positioned at a resting point that does not require strain on eyes of the user to see the screen, which is usually around 70 cm of distance. Overall, the design of ergonomic monitors must include adjustability in order to conform to the comfort of the user.

Desks

Sitting passively at a desk for hours at a time can lead to unfortunate health outcomes such as increased blood pressure and high blood sugar. In order to curb these negative effects caused by the stationary conditions in most office spaces, technologists have developed ergonomic sit-to-stand desks that provide the user with access to more mobility throughout their workdays.

Sit-to-stand desks modify their shape to allow a worker to raise their desk from a seated position to a standing one while they continue to view their monitor. Alternating between sitting and standing alleviates pressure from lower back muscles and forces the user to properly readjust their posture throughout the day. While standing, it is important to maintain alignment between one’s head and torso and to ensure that one’s elbows remain at a 90-degree angle when placed upon the desk. Sit-to-stand ergonomic desks give freedom to users to transform their static office spaces and improve their health. 

Keyboard/Mouse

Though relatively small aspects of an office space, keyboards and computer mice nonetheless play a key role in creating an ergonomic working environment. A traditional computer mouse forces the user to constantly twist their wrist in an unnatural fashion throughout the day which can lead to lifelong stress injuries. Ergonomic computer mice are designed differently by technologists to fit the curvature of the worker’s hand, thereby limiting the strain put on their muscles and joints. Additionally, ergonomic mice are created to require less grip to function, allowing the user to exert less force and experience less pressure while they work.

Like mice, traditional keyboards also can lead to negative health effects, such as carpal tunnel syndrome caused by pinched nerves in the wrist. Ergonomic keyboards solve this issue through their innovative split key design which provides comfort and relief to the wrists of the user. An ergonomic keyboard should be centered with the middle of the sitter’s body and positioned close to the computer mouse to reduce strain on the muscles in the arm and allow for greater efficiency when typing. 

Overall, ergonomic office furniture helps to protect the health and increase the comfort of office workers. New innovations in technology will continue to influence the design of ergonomic office furniture to ensure that every worker has the ability to work in a safe, healthy, and productive environment.

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