April 15, 2016

This article was originally emailed as our monthly eBulletin at 11:30 on 13/04/2016. You can view older eBulletins here and register to receive them monthly.



The new ISO27500:2016 standard has just been published and addresses human wellbeing as an important economic measure. Unusually for an ISO standard, this document is aimed directly at executive board members and provides seven key measures of human-centredness. For those of us involved in ergonomics and human factors, this represents a quantum leap by drawing together health, safety and wellbeing, accessibility, individuality, inclusivity and social responsibility into a single document as guiding principles in the design of products, services and processes both within and beyond an organisation.


book250px‘Human Factors and Ergonomics in Practice: Improving Wellbeing and Performance in the Real World’ is a new book about HFE as it is actually applied in day-to-day life. It is edited by Steven Shorrock and Claire Williams and contains an impressive list of international authors. Amidst the distilled knowledge of this august and international body of professionals is a chapter by me! The book is due to be published in Summer 2016 but you can find much more information in the extensive blog or through #HFEinPractice on Twitter.



We have just scheduled another series of events running through until August. These popular sessions provide an ideal way to extend your knowledge or refresh your memory in a focused session of less than an hour. The current timetable includes modules by our Training Manager, Stuart Entwistle, but I have three speaking engagements scheduled over the next couple of months so I shall be developing new themes to be added soon. All our webinars are free. Take a look at


nbe250pxWe have just booked our space again for the NBE conference and exhibition in September. This year’s theme is ‘Erasing Boundaries’. As well as displaying new products, we also plan to deliver one of the exhibitor workshops. Our session title this year is ‘Coping Strategies in a Rapidly Changing Workplace’.  There are many issues facing managers today and the pace of change makes juggling priorities even more difficult. Obviously, I have no idea what the content will be yet but I plan to make it both informative and entertaining!


sleeping250pxDid you see our April Fools’ Day email, blog or web site? With new, and often conflicting, research appearing almost daily, it is hard for business managers to know what guidance to follow. To confuse everyone further, we announced a new recommendation that ‘Work routines should be broken at least once an hour with a short sleep of 3-7 minutes’. In the end, nobody asked us for more information about the ‘sleep walking treadmill desk’ and we spent far more time on this nonsense than we should have, but it was fun! If you missed it, take a look at

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!

Why do we WoW?

February 10, 2015

WoW LogoI have been thinking about the significance of clever marketing in the creation of a reputation.

The influence of the internet is now so overwhelming that a new product can power its way into the hearts and minds of consumers on the strength of search engine optimisation, Google AdSense and social media alone. However, the fact that ‘everybody’s talking about it’ does not necessarily mean a product is good!

As a vendor of products to improve workplace ergonomics, we have established a procedure to bypass any marketing or publicity bias and ensure our judgements are based on facts. This has been part of our ISO9001 quality system for many years and, although it may appear quite unsophisticated, it has proven itself many times. I have shared our procedure below and welcome comments and observations. At the moment, I believe the process to be unique in the industry but will be flattered (and encouraged!) by any who wish to adopt it.

We call it the ‘WoW Factor’ test. Every new product is reviewed by our WoW Factor committee and it works like this:

Ergonomics and quality are key.  The review committee consists of four people from the Customer Service team and four from Sales.  As well as different roles, it includes men and women of different statures and different psychometric profiles. This helps us to consider both physical ergonomics and human factors. Typically, the Customer Service personnel look at what sort of follow-up, technical questions, setup issues, etc. they might encounter and the sales team look at how attractive it will be to customers!

Each product is given 2 scores:

  1. Wow Factor – would I like one, do I “get it”, is it obvious what it’s for or how to use it?
  2. Usability Score – are the instructions good, is it easy to adjust, does it fulfil our ergonomics expectations, does it “do what it says on the tin”? (We also consider sales price at this stage).

WoW Factor ScoringTotal scores are not an absolute decider but they focus our attention on the key features and benefits as well as providing a basis for comparison to similar products. They also inform our discussion about whether or not the product is good enough to be part of our portfolio.

How do I choose an office chair (for myself)?

January 8, 2014

When I see the question “what is the best office chair?” online, I just want to shout “wrong question” at my screen. Unfortunately, such rants are no help to anybody so this article a) raises a better question (in the title) and b) goes some way towards answering that question.

Many people outside (and within!) the office furniture industry grossly underestimate the importance of the work chair. Numerous articles  have warned us about the perils of too much sitting but the truth is that many of us still have to sit at a desk whether or not that is our preferred mode of work. Even with frequent breaks, it is essential to optimise our comfort and posture by ensuring the chair(s) we use regularly are well chosen.

ChairDetail1It is obviously not enough to go to your nearest office superstore and buy the first chair that says it’s “ergonomic” on the box. The fact that the chair (or packaging) manufacturer can spell the word is no guarantee they know what it means.

So here is an action plan for buying a work chair for your personal use. If you are looking to purchase for a department or organisation, then understanding this process will certainly assist you but the specifics of bulk purchase (“How do I choose an office chair for lots of people?”) will be addressed in a separate blog.

Assuming you are willing to commit the time and energy to “do this right”, I hope this plan will help you. If you don’t have the time to follow this process, the alternative is to find a good supplier(!) who has a real understanding of ergonomics and can help arrive at the best decision.

  1. First you need to understand what is “out there” and gain some understanding of the furniture industry terminology. This will ensure you are moving towards what is best for you rather than what is best for the chair salesman. To assist, you will need a list of chair features, what they do and what benefits they offer. This list is a good example.
  2. ChairDetail2Such a list will not give you all the answers. It may even raise more questions but they will be useful questions that will ensure an informed choice in due course. From the list, create a shortlist of a) essential and b) desirable (but not essential) features along with any questions that you need to ask in order to add or eliminate a feature.
  3. Now start looking for a supplier. Unfortunately, “ergonomic” is one of the most over-used, abused and misused words since the invention of Google so you have to be a little imaginative with your online searching. Try using specialist office chairs, for example, but read more than the link line of each search result. This will start to give you a feeling for the businesses available. Don’t be deterred if the business(es) that look most promising are not in your geographical area: they may well be willing to travel and, if not, will probably recommend a reputable supplier closer to you (the dedicated workplace ergonomics community is quite small and genuine specialists will be surprisingly willing to refer you to someone they trust rather than let you down).
  4. ChairDetail3aAsk your questions – this will inevitably generate further questions. The answers will help you decide if this a supplier you are comfortable with (this purchase is an important decision). Get the names of chair models that meet your criteria and ask for web links to the products. Viewing online will be better than using a catalogue because the best companies often use video on their web sites. Here are some other questions to ask prospective suppliers:
    – do you offer an installation service?
    – if so, does it include user training?
    – if so, what does the training involve?
    – do you offer a Sale or Return (or similar) trial period?
    – if so, how long is that?
    – what training do your installer(s) have?
  5. By this time, it is desirable to have decided on a preferred supplier.  You will be counting on their advice so it must be someone you feel you can trust.
  6. You also now have an idea of the sort of chairs that meet your feature requirements, so you need to check they will also fit you dimensionally. The best way to ensure the optimum physical match is take your measurements. All good suppliers will be able to offer you a form for this, either as an emailed pdf or an online version like this one.
  7. ChairDetail5With your chosen feature set and the anthropometric data (measurements) recorded on the form, your preferred supplier will now be able to provide you with specific model recommendations and you can start talking about price.
  8. To ensure you stay within budget, you will need to review whether or not you want to keep all the desirable (non-essential) features.
  9. You now have a chair shortlist so you will need to sit on at least one chair, possibly two or three. This may involve someone coming to see you or the supplier may have a showroom. A good supplier will probably suggest one chair with firm foam and one with soft or perhaps one chair with a lumbar support and one with a pelvic support so that you can compare and contrast the different feel. I would advise against trying more than 3 chairs because it can become very confusing.
  10. By now you should be able to make your decision. To be confident about the process, double-check that your new chair can be supplied on Sale or Return or there is some trial period option.
  11. Finally, ensure that someone delivers the chair, shows you how to set it up and trains you properly in its use. This process will probably take 30-60 minutes. Ensure you are shown, not just what the knobs and levers do, but why you would want to use them and what you need to achieve. You should also be given chair instructions and posture information for reference in the future. Many chairs now have animated instructions available online and an animated Posture Guide (for European set-ups) can be found here.

ChairDetail4As I said at the outset, many people underestimate the importance of the work chair and, as a result, the importance of the selection process. I hope this article demonstrates how not to underestimate it!

Do you agree with my action plan? Have I missed anything out? Do you have a (really reliable) simpler process?

Do you have the time to follow it? If not, contact one of my colleagues for assistance!

If you are also interested in how to choose an office chair for lots of people, my blog ‘Choosing Office Chairs (for the Majority)‘ provides a suggested procedure and more information is also available at

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