The driving force behind seating specification in Europe continues to be the Display Screen Equipment (DSE), Health and Safety Regulations for workstations and task chairs used with computer workstations. The Health and Safety Executive states that equipment such as desks, task chairs, monitor arms and laptop holders should comply with BS EN ISO 9241 Part 5.
The DSE regs have been with us a long time but the issue has changed in recent years thanks to new technologies such as flat screen monitors which have changed the shape and size of workstations and new working practices which mean people are not as desk bound and static as they once were.
There is also a different approach to ergonomics which has meant the driving force is far less the fear of litigation by employees and more about wellbeing, productivity and attracting and retaining staff.
One thing that hasn't changed is that good ergonomics starts with a good ergonomic task chair.
Task Chairs should satisfy the needs of a very high percentage of users for personal preference, comfort and fit. Standards tend to be based around anthropometric data for around 95 per cent of the population.
The days when task chairs would just spin around and go up and down are long gone. Now the following adjustments are all either standard or common:
Seat height, Seat tension, Seat tilt, Seat depth, Back height, Back rake, Back lock, Lumbar support, Armrest height , Armrest width and Armrest pivot.
With all this variety it is perhaps unsurprising that many people don't know how to adjust their ergonomic task chairs properly. Research by the Center for Workplace Health Information in the US has found that under half of people always adjust their task chairs for their own comfort. Ask the manufacturer about the help they can offer to help your people adjust their task chairs properly. Most ergonomic task chairs will have an instruction label attached but good firms will also offer help with training, interactive advice on their websites and other support.
A properly adjusted ergonomic task chair should mean a user can achieve the following basic elements of comfort:
The standard for task chairs in Europe is the synchronized movement. With a synchronised mechanism when the seat moves by one degree, the back moves by two degrees. An alternative is to have a knee-tilt mechanism with an individually adjustable back so the shape of the seat is tailored for the individual and lumbar support remains constant. In most of Europe, we tend to be driven by the German market which favours the synchronous mechanism and maintains the status quo. In individual markets such as Scandinavia where demands and market conditions are different the demand is more often for a knee tilt mechanism.
As well as the basic task chair, many manufacturers will allow you to customise their task chairs with a range of accessories including:
Head rests, Different types of castors and glides, Different arm rests, Coat hangers and Ergonomic accessories.
Although mesh task chairs have become increasingly popular over the past ten years or so, most ergonomic task chairs are still specified with fabric covered foam upholstery. There is an agreeably wide selection of fabrics to choose from a number of suppliers. If you can always try to specify a fabric from one of the major, reputable manufacturers who not only have better quality materials but will also offer a wide, well designed range.
Although standards are based around the shapes and sizes of around 95 per cent of the population, this can cause problems when dealing with those outside of the agreed size distribution, still a fairly large number of people. Another issue with the anthropometric data that legislation is based on is that it is based on historical data. Some of it dates back to the days of the early 1980s and the groundbreaking work of a man called Stephen Pheasant. This may not take account of the changing shape of the population.
Anthropometrics can also vary wildly from country to country. The Netherlands now has the tallest average in the world with young men averaging over 6ft tall. In contrast, average male height in Vietnam and North Korea remains comparatively small at 5 ft 4 in and 5 ft 5 in respectively.
In the short term, populations can change shape even more quickly. Most notable is the way in which the British population is getting bigger. According to recent statistics, around 42 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women are now classed as overweight, compared to just 6 and 8 per cent respectively in 1980.
Many task chairs now make bold claims about their green credentials with some claiming to be 95 or more per cent recyclable. As usual with environmental claims you should dig a little deeper in to what this actually means. In particular be aware that because task chairs are usually made up of many different materials, separating them all out for recycling can be difficult and expensive. Always ask a manufacturer how they support recycling. There should ideally be a management scheme in place for you to take advantage of. Be careful when choosing materials.
There may be other standards and schemes that will guide your decision. One example is TCO labelling, which you've probably seen on your own monitor screen but may have ignored. TCO Certification is a series of product certifications for office equipment commonly associated with computer monitors but later TCO revisions also define standards for computers, keyboards, printers, mobile phones, and office furniture since 2004. TCO covers not only ergonomic principles but also environmental issues and the use of materials.
There are also organisations who may be able to advise and help including The Green Works at www.green-works.co.uk
Inclusivity is not just about disability, although Under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 (DDA) all furniture in areas of public access should be suitable for use by disabled persons.
There may also be other groups of people to whom you need to offer special consideration. These include people both above and below the 95 per cent distribution range used to determine standard ergonomic needs and pregnant women whose ergonomic needs clearly change quickly and dramatically and for whom discomfort can become a major issue.
As well as the range of British and International standards detailed below, it may be worthwhile looking at other examples of excellence when buying seating. One is the TCO standards mentioned above but another is FIRA's Ergonomics Excellence Award which claims to identify products that meet and exceed the requirements of the general standards. A list of award holders can be accessed through the askFIRA web site. www.fira.co.uk
According to BS 5459-2: 2000 operators' task chairs must comply with test requirements for use by people weighing 150kg for up to 24 hours a day. Otherwise task chairs tested to BS EN 1335-2:2000 must comply with the test requirements for use by people weighing 110kg for up to 8 hours a day.
FIRA has also recently introduced a new standard (FIRA 0055: 2005) which aims to provide seating for people weighing up to 200kg (approximately 31.5 stone)
All items other than operators' task chairs should comply with BS EN 13761: 2000 and should not overturn when tested in accordance with BS EN 1022: 2005
Non-metal surface finishes should comply with FIRA Standard 6250:2005 Specification Materials (Interior) Table 2 Finish Performance the Horizontal surfaces Severe.
The finishes on metal items should comply with FIRA standard 4000: 2006 Specification furniture materials: interior - Surface finishes applied to metals.
Woven textile fabrics should meet the requirements of BS 2543:2004 for general contract upholstery.
Coated fabrics should meet the requirements of BS ISO 7617-1: 2001 Part 1 for PVC coated knitted fabrics and BS 5790: Part 2, 1995 = ISO 7617-2:1994 for PVC coated woven fabrics for contract applications.
Leather should meet the requirements of BS EN 13336:2004 for general contract applications.
Any urethane foam as a filling used should be 'combustion modified'. Foams shall satisfy the test contained in Schedule 1 Part 1 of the "Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988. Combinations of upholstery and filling should comply with the standard for a medium hazard as defined by BS 7176:1995.
Filling material of urethane foam type should meet BS 3379:2005, Class V for seats, Class S for backs.
Task chairs should meet BS EN ISO 9241-5: 1999, Part 5 Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDT'S); Workstation layout and postural requirements.
Office task chairs should also satisfy BS EN 1335-1: 2000, Part 1 Office furniture - Office task chair: Dimensions and determination of dimensions. Visitors chairs should also comply with the dimension standards specified in BS EN 13761: 2002, Office furniture - Visitors chairs.
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