October 6th, 2010

Balls as Chairs; Ergonomic Checkpoints; 18th World Congress on Ergonomics

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The Claim: Replacing Your Desk Chair With an Exercise Ball can Improve Your Posture

The most popular article in Ergonomics Today™, day in and day out, is Opinion: Balls as Office Chairs a Bad Idea. Roughly 5,000 readers per month, month after month, access this article. Google, Wikipedia and Bing alone sent some 40,000 searchers to read it in the past year. (You can also read many other articles and Ergoweb Forum discussions on ergoweb.com that touch on the balls-as-chairs topic.). It was published in 2005 and is due for an update, so I was interested to see The New York Times publish a short piece on using balls as chair. According to the author, Anahad O’Connor:

Exercise balls are becoming a popular alternative to plain old office chairs, a way — some say — to burn more calories and improve posture.

The increase in the calorie burn is real but small …

But as far as posture is concerned, there is not exactly a compelling body of evidence …

THE BOTTOM LINE Sitting on an exercise ball burns more energy than sitting on an office chair, but the evidence that it improves posture is lacking.

Read the full article …

This topic pairs well with this week’s The Ergonomics Report article that reviews a research study that found performance degradations when computer operators worked at so called active computer workstations that incorporate treadmills and stationary bicycles.


2nd Edition of Ergonomic Checkpoints Now Available

If you’ve never seen the book Ergonomic Checkpoints, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of the newly released second edition. If you already have a copy, you might want to upgrade to this new addition. It’s a straight-to-the-point, application oriented approach to principles of ergonomics and is suitable for all levels of ergonomics knowledge. It’s particularly useful for anyone promoting participatory ergonomics approaches. Plus, if I’m not mistaken, your purchase provides some financial support to the International Ergonomics Association (IEA), who collaborated with the ILO in writing the book.


Mark Your Calendar: 18th World Congress on Ergonomics in Brazil (2012)

Speaking of IEA, I also encourage you to start saving your pennies, centavos – or whatever you call your local coinage – for the IEA’s 18th World Congress on Ergonomics, to be held in Recife, Brazil, February 12-16, 2012. This is sure to be one of the largest gatherings for ergonomics on record. And just by chance (actually, by very wise planning), the conference will take place the week before Carnival, a world renowned celebration that the Brazilians take to a festive level all their own. The conference itself is reason enough to go, of course, but I’ll be staying for Carnival, as well. I can hardly wait! See you there!

The congress will be a joint conference with ULAERGO – Union of Latin-American Ergonomics Society and ABERGO – Brazilian Ergonomics Association. ABERGO is the official host of the Congress. Visit the 18th World Congress on Ergonomics web site to learn more.


October is Global Ergonomics Month

Speaking of IEA again, they have designated October as Global Ergonomics Month. There are at least two websites dedicated to regional efforts to promote ergonomics, including The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s National Ergonomics Month web site and a section of the Federation of European Ergonomics Society’s (FEES) web site. The purpose of Global is to focus on promoting human factors/ergonomics to corporate executives, students, and the general public by providing information and services to the community.

Ergoweb does this every day, month, and year — why wait for October!?


1st Federation of European Ergonomics Societies Conference

FEES is also holding the 1st FEES Conference, October 10-12, in Bruges, Belgium. The theme of the conference is “Ergonomics in and for Europe / Quality of Life: Social, Economic & Ergonomic Challenges for Ageing People at Work.” I wish our European friends and colleagues success with their conference – wish I could be there, too.


  1. vedder says:

    To Jane Sleeth

    I can understand your points, but I disagree with your statement that balls do not belong into the office.
    1) I assume that one key point for you is the legal issue and the fear of companies being sued by employees who fell off the ball. This may be true in the U.S., but here in Europe/Germany we have a slightly different legal system. Here the accident victim would be covered by mandatory insurance. But he or she would NOT sue the company for falling off a ball! (And anyone who would try would be seen as greedy, stupid, or both… – and would loose in front of any court)
    2) The simple statement that a ball does not belong into any office assumes that users have no understanding on how to use it correctly. So the solution must be to teach them frequently on correct usage. If the solution is banning the balls, then the same solution should be applied to office chairs, as the majority of users is not using them correctly either. So with your approach chairs would also have to be banned. (Not to speak of the expensive but back-killing designer couch at home…)
    3) Yes, I agree, that using a ball to sit on increases the load on your back muscles. But since when is that bad? Using stairs instead of the elevator also puts additional strain on leg muscles and ankle, knee and hip joints. Yet most doctors suggest taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Putting some extra load on our muscular and cardio-vascular system from time to time is positive as this is what these systems actually were designed for. The trick is to not overdo it. So using the ball once or twice a day for 20 to 30 minutes cannot be bad. Otherwise any fitness exercise would be bad. As far as I remember an in-active lifestyle and not using one’s muscles is the number one reason for poor health.
    4) One argument against my point 3 would be that fitness exercises are the employee’s responsibility and should not be done at the work place. Then why do the most modern companies have fitness rooms, running tracks, sports groups over lunch, etc. at work – at least here in Europe?
    5) Of course, it depends on where the ball is used. I work in research where my colleagues and I actually share one ball. We do not get customers in our offices, and in meetings we use normal chairs. I agree that for a person with frequent customer contact, bouncing on a ball would not be appropriate.

    Replacing a good ergonomic office chair with a ball is not the right solution. But using a ball for a short time of up to 20 minutes once or twice per day is good.

  2. agungchandra_07 says:

    When balls as chairs are used for long hours, they will bother our blood circulation system. It is similar when we do exercise too much (more than usual), we will feel tired and not good for our health and so do ball chairs when we use too long. In my opinion, ball chairs are good for our health when we have a problem for certain area of our body and used for around 15 – 30 minutes only.

  3. beth.grosh says:

    I recently received a request from an employee for a ball chair to help improve her concentration -the employee had been in a motor vehicle accident and susteained a closed hed injury and is still working to recover some of her cognative skills. Her occ therapist recommended a ball chair, citing info that shows that attention deficit students who sat on them in a classroom dxid better on their concentration. I denied her request based on my concern for safety (I’m the safety manager) and liablity exposures, as well as one short study didn’t sell me or my clinical team here on the idea. Anyone else had this request or have a comment?

  4. aprw287 says:

    Please please please stop the anecdotal ergonomic accessory parade! As many of you know OPC Inc in Canada does not endorse any products, services or furniture as part of our day to day operations and service to our clients. Therefore I am free to quote the evidence from Stu McGill’s lab and any labs which look at static loading of the paraspinal muscles of the spine as well as discogenic loading related research; Exercise Balls DO NOT BELONG IN THE OFFICE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. Unless you feel like watching an employee fall off of these things or you enjoy watching the Lu Lu Lemon wearing fitness buff in your office praactice stability exercises in your office all day. Stop the ergonomic insanity. JESleeth with sarcasm intended as those with conflicts of interest and products to sell with not enjoy my feedback!

  5. Peter.h.feldmann says:

    Hello Vedder,
    we developed a brief booklet for users called: the backbone of the office. If you are interested contct me for a free pdf file.

  6. vedder says:

    Hi Eunice,
    I agree with you that everybody is responsible to adjust his/her workplace. Same is true for sitting on balls. I frequently use a ball to relax my lower back. The point is that I know how to use it correctly. Like I also know how to set up my screen, mouse, keyboard, light, phone, etc. etc.
    However, most people do not have this ergonomic knowledge, and neither do they know that it is their office furniture and PC equipment giving them trouble. Especially when they have a high-performance computers and a new chair and desk. So, how do you make someone responsible who does not have the appropriate knowledge?
    I am an ergonomist responsible for product ergonomics; office ergonomics is officially not in my job description. But it still amazes me how easy it is to become a secretary’s hero of the day, first by telling her (or him) that she is suffering from neck pain, radiating into her head and shoulders, probably more on the left (or right) side. Then, after the astonished stare, you tell her how to re-arrange her PC equipment, and how to adjust chair and desk correctly.
    Going back two weeks later usually is rewarded with a warm smile. I’ve had comments like “you fixed something in five minutes that my doctor was unable to fix in 5 years”.
    Simple message: Buying the ergonomic chair and mouse, and then making the user responsible for correct use, does not help the user. Rather, those who know (which is us ergonomists…) must teach those who do not know.
    For me ergonomics today is much more about spreading the knowledge over and over and over again, than inventing new ergonomic gadgets – or buying ergonomic equipment and hoping it is used correctly.

  7. ergonomics-info.com says:

    Well ergonomic ball office chairs are not meant to replace proper ergonomic chairs. Also good ergonomic habits must be exercised. Do they get off their seat and take a quick break every 40 minutes? Do they also have the right screen/monitor height level? Do they vary theirs to prevent straining their muscles into one “locked” position?

    I’m not an advocate of ergonomic ball chairs, but sometimes I see these reviews and really wonder how they came up with that study. At the end of the day, all of us are different. We just have to apply ergonomics to ourselves and find what fits us best.

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