What is an ergonomic chair?

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the scientific study of people in the workplace, with the aim of improving efficiency and productivity.

“The number of employees suffering from back, neck and shoulder complaints caused by sitting and postural-related issues has continued to rise”

Mark Barrell and Levent Caglar, Boss Design

When it comes to chairs, one size does not fit all. Ergonomic chairs are often ordered to an individual’s specification, and allow a high level of adjustability to help support the task at hand.  This often includes an intelligent mechanism designed to encourage more movement during your working day, fully adjustable arms, seat height adjustment and adjustable or inflatable lumbar support.

Ergonomists observe how people interact with their work environment, and then work closely with designers to create seating solutions that fix common workplace issues. An ergonomic chair takes in to account all of these principles to help you work as effectively and comfortably as possible.

When set-up correctly, this means that the chair can actually help you to adopt and maintain a better working posture, protect the user from painful posture-related issues associated with unfit seating and be more productive throughout your working day.

It is broadly acknowledged that giving people more sophisticated chairs with a greater number of manual adjustments is improving the ergonomic quality of the workplace

Mark Barrell and Levent Caglar, Boss Design

Features to look for in an ergonomic chair:

Seat width and depth adjustment

Adjusting the depth of your chair will determine how much support your thighs receive. To check the depth of your seat, sit as far back as possible in your chair. The space you need between the chair and the back of your knees is roughly three fingers wide. An ergonomic chair will have a seat slider so that you can achieve this easily. Ergonomic chairs are often built to order and your DSE assessor might suggest a different sized seat pad width so that you can sit comfortably. In the same vein, your assessor might specify additions like a coccyx cut out or memory foam seat to reduce pressure on the base of the spine.

Seat height adjustment

An ergonomic chair will have a gas lift so that you can adjust the height you are sitting at. The right height means that your forearms are in-line with your desk; if your feet do not remain flat on the floor in this position then you will need a footrest.

Fully adjustable armrests

Armrests support the shoulders and prevent strain throughout the arm. They should be adjusted so that there is a comfortable 90° angle through the forearm when the shoulders are relaxed. Ergonomic armrests usually have width adjustment so that they can remain close to the body. The top of the armrest might also swivel so that you can sit as close to the desk as possible.

Five-star base

If you are in an office of 5 or more screen users, DSE regulations state that office chairs must have a five-star base. Usually made in high-grade plastic or polished aluminium, these prevent the chair from tipping and keep your feet safely on the ground when you adjust your posture. The castors on the base will vary based on your job specification and environment: If your office has carpet, soft floor castors will compensate for this and if you are on a tall lab stool you will most likely have a chair with break loaded castors to stop the chair from slipping away from you.

Back support

The back support of an ergonomic chair is height adjustable so that it can offer maximum support to the lumbar region of the spine. The shape and fabric can vary based on the ergonomic principle that it is trying to achieve but all offer a good level of support to match the contours of the spine. If the chair has a mechanism built in such as a tilt mechanism, this also means your spine remains supported whilst you move throughout the day.


HSE specifications note that the seat, armrests and backrests should be well padded to ensure that the worker’s body does not press uncomfortably on the frame of the chair. Padding needs to be firm rather than soft and of good quality to ensure that the chair remains comfortable for a reasonable time.

  • Chair covers need to be non-slip, easy to clean or wash, and of a fabric which ‘breathes’ (permeable to moisture). Good quality, durable covers will aid comfort and prolong the service life of the chair.
  • To ensure that upholstery does not present an unacceptable fire risk, seating should meet BS 5852 regulations.

To make sure you are legally providing the correct seating you can view the full HSE specifications for seating at work here or read our breakdown guide to Display Screen Equipment regulations.

It’s tricky to know exactly what chair you need when you’re picking one for yourself. If you need some advice, book an appointment at our Brighton based showroom so we can help you pick your perfect chair.

For further information check out this fantastic study from Boss Design, browse ergonomic office furniture on our shop or download our free good posture guides.

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