How do I choose a good office chair? As you’d expect, it’s something we get asked all the time, by employee’s, HR representatives and Facilities Managers alike.
The answer is it really depends…
Just like the people that sit in them, chairs come in all shapes and sizes, with various features designed to support one area or another, and of course, at various price-points. So far, we’ve not yet found that one definitive solution that suits absolutely everyone.
So, what should you be looking for?
To the office chair newbie, it can be a bit of a minefield, what with all the weight-tensioned balance mechanisms, 4D armrests, pneumatic lumbar cushions, coccyx zones and so on. At this point, we’ll assume we have some understanding of the basics, such as working safely with display screen equipment (DSE), ergonomic workstation set-up and the 5% rule.
It’s also worth knowing that the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) sets out some recommendations for the minimum specification a DSE task chair should meet. That document is referenced HSG57 and a copy can be viewed for free, on the HSE website. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to read that in full just now; the headline here is that a workstation, including the chair – and the surrounding environment – should be suitable for the user’s needs.
When it’s time for chair shopping, here are the things you need to consider:
A five-point base
Starting from the ground up, the HSE says your task chair should have a five-point base. This will likely be fitted with castors, either for a carpeted surface or for a hard floor, although in some cases, it could feature trumpet-shaped glides instead.
It’s crucial that the chair goes up and down, so the employee can get themselves set up at the correct working height. To judge this, look at where the arms fall in relation to the desk. Ideally, the forearms should be in line with the work surface (or just above), with a 90-degree angle in the elbows. If, when sitting at the correct height, the user’s feet don’t make proper contact with the ground, a footrest is recommended. Getting our backs properly supported starts at ground level, by having our feet securely planted and making contact at the heel and ball of the foot.
Seat depth adjustment
This is one of the controls that are often missed out in the lower-priced, off-the-shelf highstreet offerings. In order to get proper support under the thighs, aim to get two-to-three finger-widths between the back of the lower leg and the leading edge of the seat pad by using the seat depth adjustment, often referred to as a ‘seat slide’. Where an end-user is ~5’3” or shorter, it may be necessary to look at a shortened seat pad. This will allow them to make proper contact with the backrest of the chair, without compromising the angle of the pelvis and rolling round onto the coccyx and sacrum, or perching at the front of the seat and making zero contact with the backrest at all.
Generally speaking, chairs will either have a backrest constructed of sculpted foam or from mesh stretched over a frame; there are pros and cons to each. Our friends, the HSE, recommend ‘some adjustment’ be available for that portion of the chair. A number of chairs that Posture People recommend will also feature integrated lumbar support devices.
Armrests are a bit of a marmite topic; some people love them (me included); others, not so much, and we’re often asked: “do I need armrests on my chair?”. The idea of armrests is that they are set to the same height as the work surface – effectively extending that platform – catching the elbows and taking the weight of the arms off of the shoulders. Arms are pretty heavy things and a lot of upper arm/shoulder/neck issues can be traced back to armrests that are either poorly adjusted, not a good match for the user’s body metrics or just not there in the first place. A number of the chairs we recommend are fitted with ‘multi-adjustable’ or ‘4D’ arms. This means they can be adjusted for height, as well as depth and width, so they can support the users’ elbows and still allow proper access to the desk without causing a clash.
I see people on a day-to-day basis, conducting DSE assessments at their workplaces. Along with the repetitive strain injuries (RSI) in the arms, shoulders and neck, bad backs in one form or another are, unfortunately, a really common complaint. If you need more inspiration, I’ve talked about my favourite chairs to help a bad back here.