Stop And Think Before You Sit And Stand

July 8, 2015

This article was originally emailed as our monthly eBulletin at 11:30 on 08/07/2015. You can view older eBulletins here and register to receive them monthly.

DONT WASTE YOUR MONEY ON SIT-STAND FURNITURE!

HeaderImage07-2015

This may seem an unusual entreaty from someone who has been selling sit-stand furniture for nearly 20 years but I am becoming more and more exasperated by the half-baked, ill-informed, incomplete and often misleading stories appearing in the press and online about sitting and standing. If you or your organisation are contemplating buying sit-stand furniture, I want to stop you in your tracks and make you think carefully about how you approach the ‘less sitting’ issue. Otherwise you will waste money, no matter what products you buy.

This statement probably needs some explanation…

MOTUS

motus_controllerOnce you have given proper thought to the Less Sitting issue, we can help you with the right training and products! The latest addition to our furniture portfolio is the Motus desk. Offering full two-stage height adjustment and a choice of top sizes, this range is ideal for individual or corporate use. It also comes with a 4-memory controller as standard. We believe this surprisingly useful feature is unique at this price point.

BUYING CHAIRS

buying_chairs

Amidst all the fuss about more standing and movement options at work, it’s easy to forget that people are still using – and therefore buying – chairs. Two of my recent blogs look at different aspects of the seating specification and purchase process. If you are currently reviewing or looking to validate your existing procedures, please take a look at Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority) and Choosing Specialist Chairs for Individuals in the Workplace.

WEBINARS

webinar250pxAs well as our regular ‘live’ programme, we have recently started to update the video recordings of these events. This means you can now register for upcoming sessions here or view our on-demand library here.

POSTURE GUIDANCE

PostureGuidanceSitStandAlthough it has been available since 1997, we regularly update our free online Posture Guidance at www.ergoergo.info. This requires registration but is completely free to use. Don’t forget to try it on your smartphone! It’s a remarkably useful tool to use when you are on the move.


Don’t waste your money on sit-stand furniture!

July 8, 2015

This may seem an unusual entreaty from someone who has been selling sit-stand furniture for nearly 20 years but I am becoming more and more exasperated by the half-baked, ill-informed, incomplete and often misleading stories appearing in the press and online about sitting and standing.

If you or your organisation are contemplating buying sit-stand furniture, I want to stop you in your tracks and make you think carefully about how you approach the ‘less sitting’ issue. Otherwise you will waste money, no matter what products you buy.

This statement probably needs some explanation!

You may have seen all the noise in the press, social media and online about the risks of prolonged sitting. Attention-grabbing headlines such as ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ sell newspapers but don’t really help you understand what to do about it. The more you see or read, the more bewildered you will probably become! Academic research can be confusing or inconclusive (or both).

All the evidence supports the statement that many of us are too sedentary but nobody seems to know what is the optimum sitting/ standing ratio. Furthermore, much of the noise completely omits any reference to the need to replace sitting with a variety of activities, not just standing. A lot of apparently validated material is, in reality, a thinly veiled effort to add implied academic rigour to the process of selling sit-stand desks.

The office furniture industry is full of willing salesmen who will be happy to let you replace your existing desks with sit-stand options. But most are selling the product, not the concept.

I have been selling sit-stand furniture since the last century! I understand about the cultural issues of introducing sit-stand, the training requirements and the benefits as well as the problems they may cause. I also know that standing more is only part of the solution. Most people in the furniture industry don’t.

It doesn’t matter whether your motivation is a board level edict, a wellbeing initiative, a desire for best practice or a vociferous colleague with a note from their physiotherapist. Whatever the circumstances, you need to avoid a knee-jerk reaction or a relationship with a poorly informed supplier.

With good quality sit-stand desks now available at under £500 and desktop adaptors available for even less, taking the sit-stand option may seem logical and (comparatively) inexpensive – perhaps even inevitable. However, it will not be money well spent if nobody is using them in six months or if your personnel replace poor sitting postures with poor standing postures.

So please – stop and think before you sit and stand!


Choosing Specialist Chairs for Individuals in the Workplace

July 5, 2015

I have addressed the choice of a work chair for yourself or for whole teams elsewhere.

This article assumes you have already ordered a suitable quantity of general chairs – or already have them – and now need a procedure to address the needs of those who find the standard option unsuitable, uncomfortable or inadequate. This may be due to dimensional issues (too big/too small/ too wide/too narrow), musculo-skeletal problems (such as back or neck issues, upper limb disorders) or because of disabilities (spinal curvature or limb amputation perhaps).

To ensure consistency of approach, it is most important to establish a procedure for exception management. If it is not clearly defined and strictly observed, there is a real risk that the exception may start to become the norm or that those who shout loudest (not necessarily the most deserving) get the most attention.

Whilst there will be obvious individuals who will not fit the general chair for dimensional reasons, there will be others with less obvious musculo-skeletal or health conditions. The approach should be the same for all of these situations and the most likely triggers for exception management will be:

  1. Escalation as a result of a workstation assessment
  2. Recommendations from a medical professional such as a GP or physiotherapist
  3. Self-reporting

To elaborate on these,

  1. The workstation assessment is the most reliable trigger and it is important to have a robust procedure in place. There are many computer-based systems and the best will provide much of the reporting and escalation structure. Where a manual system is used, it is essential to review assessment reports promptly. Employers producing assessments and failing to act on the outcomes are simply creating evidence to be used against themselves in the event of litigation!
  2. Whilst any report from a medical practitioner should be taken seriously, it should be reviewed carefully if the practitioner proposes any physical or product interventions but does not have an Occupational Health background. GPs, physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors and others have been known to recommend a specific chair model or, perhaps, a ‘swiss ball’. However, they are not usually product specialists and any suggestion will almost certainly be simply a personal preference or based on literature they have read, rather than a holistic approach to the individual’s workplace needs. Their suggestions may not even comply with appropriate legislative requirements! If you have your own in-house occupational health facility, its personnel will almost certainly be in contact with one or more ‘ergo suppliers’ and will therefore have a much better understanding of what products are available and appropriate.
  3. Whilst self reporting should be an option available to all, your procedures should always validate the justification for any escalation. It is therefore most likely that the initial discussion will lead back to 1. or 2. (or both) before any further escalation is approved.

Once you have identified the need for specialist seating through one or more of these three methods, your process needs to manage the escalation and ensure an appropriate outcome. The next stages, and the parties involved, vary from country to country so, for the purposes of this article, the guidance will follow UK best practice.

The individual will now require a one-to-one advanced assessment which will pick up on the information already acquired. If the source of the escalation includes comprehensive data from the workstation assessment (1.) process, a telephonic assessment may be sufficient. If, however, reliable background, anthropometric and relevant medical information are not available, the one-to-one should be on-site in person. There will also be occasions when telephonic assessments become manifestly inappropriate and an on-site appointment becomes inevitable.

Approaches to the escalated assessment process (whether telephonic or in person) vary from employer to employer. The essential ingredient is to ensure that all the knowledge required for an effective outcome is available. The key knowledge requirements are:

  • Understanding the contributory factor(s).
    • This simply means having a good understanding of all the ergonomics and human factors considerations affecting the individual’s work and productivity. The physical considerations will be the most obvious but psycho-social factors will have significant impact so consideration should be given to how the individual enjoys their job, whether they feel supported by their manager and whether they feel in control of their workload as well as environmental factors such as heat, light, air quality and noise.
  • Understanding what needs to be done to address these factors
    • Typically, a medical professional will have this knowledge but may not be familiar with the nature of the work. Competent assessors will have been trained to be fully conversant with the necessary actions and will also have a network of advisers and contacts they can call upon for assistance and guidance where the specific requirements of the assessment are beyond their knowledge or experience.
  • Knowledge of suitable physical and non-physical interventions. This is the most important contributor to a satisfactory outcome.
    • Physical interventions will need a substantial knowledge of the various chair manufacturers and models available as well as the dimensions and features of these chairs and the adaptations available. Many manufacturers offer alternative chair sizes but a much smaller proportion offer a range of interchangeable seatpan and back height sizes, along with other modifications such as coccyx cut-outs, adjustable thoracic supports, massage modules, locking bases, etc. Assessors need to be familiar with these or be in close contact with someone who is. Research* shows that specialist ‘ergo’ suppliers are often the most qualified to provide such knowledge. These offer much more than traditional office furniture suppliers and will have a portfolio of specialist or adaptable products.
    • Non-physical interventions typically take the form of changes in work practice and may involve variations in job role, hours, work location and mix of activities. They will almost always involve consultation with the line manager and/or HR.

Once the assessment and recommendations have been made, it is important for the employer to act as promptly as possible to carry them out. In many organisations, the process leading to the assessment can be protracted. Once the assessment has taken place, however, it becomes clear to the individual that progress is being made and they will expect a timely conclusion.

At the time of installation, the chair (and any other specified equipment) should be set up and configured for the individual with full training provided. The training, which is absolutely crucial to a successful outcome, should explain why the products were supplied, how they will help and how they should be configured and used.

The principal context for this article was to address seating issues but it should be remembered that ergonomics is a holistic discipline and the human factors of the user’s whole environment should also be considered. For example, an assessment of a tall person will almost certainly highlight desk and monitor height issues and a very obese person may need to consider a split keyboard to be able to type comfortably.

References

* Williams, C. & Haslam, R. (2006). Ergonomics advisors – a homogeneous group?
In: Contemporary Ergonomics 2006, (Edited by P.D.Bust), Taylor & Francis: Great Britain, The Ergonomics Society Annual Conference 2006, Cambridge, UK, pp. 117-121.


Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority)

July 3, 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.

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.

diverse_groupThe 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 (musculo-skeletal 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.

You can find more information at seatingexperts.uk.

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


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