Today’s answers to the La-Z-Boy – ball chairs and their cousins, the egg chairs – have been touted by manufacturers as an ergonomic solution to sitting. According to their supporters, the goal of the chair is to engage the users in “active seating.” An oxymoron? Not really; the chair’s user has to actively work at remaining seated.
The concept of active seating itself is not necessarily a bad idea. However, this particular application for corporate use possibly is. Here’s why.
• For a chair to be ergonomic, it has to be adjustable and able to properly fit its user. Ball chairs come in just the size ordered without the ability to adjust for various tasks or different users.
• Ergonomic chairs typically provide support for more than just the buttocks.
• “Working” at the task of sitting for eight hours a day can be exhausting for a worker who spends his or her day at a desk. Fatigue leads to a greater risk of injury and reduced productivity.
• Sitting on a chair that’s unstable can be a safety hazard.
• Workplaces have a responsibility and liability to provide a safe environment for workers. It’s in no one’s best interest to replace a chair with a ball.
The intent of the ball chair developers was laudable: to take an item that seems to be beneficial in an area of health care (rehabilitation and strengthening/wellness) and apply the same principle to the office. But just like a hammer might be a valuable tool for some tasks (hanging a picture), in others (washing dishes) it’s useless or may do more harm than good.
The exercise ball might be great for strengthening and toning in the gym or at home, but it can’t compete with a truly ergonomic chair for long-term sitting in an office environment.
This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2003-12-01.