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Avoiding the evils of working pain – Interview with Adam Labelle of Humanscale
Your chair is out to get you and, according to Adam Labelle, Associate Ergonomist with Humanscale, no office worker is safe. “We sit in our car on the way to work, we sit at our computer for the better part of the day, and then we sit in our car on the way home. The modern office has changed the way in which we work,” remarks Labelle – and it’s certainly not for the better.
Rodney Lover of atWork Office Furniture recently connected with Labelle to better understand the impacts of our daily work routine and how we can save our bodies from our evil desk chairs.
atWork: Welcome Adam, please take a seat.
Adam: Actually, I think I’d prefer to stand. Did you now that sitting for extended periods of time can cause serious injury – overtime, this chair could cause Degenerative Disc Disease, respiratory issues and circulatory problems, along with disc and joint pain.
atWork: What about this ergonomic one… Humanscale’s new World Chair?
Adam: That’s much better.
atWork: Adam, define ergonomics for me and tell why is it so important to purchase an office chair that’s designed with ergonomics in mind?
Adam: To put it simply, ergonomics examines the interaction between humans and their environment. Ergonomists assess and optimize environments (like office workstations) to improve human health, productivity and performance. Ergonomic furniture isn’t just comfortable; it also enhances your work experience by ensuring the proper fit between worker and tool, environment, and/or task.
atWork: If ergonomic furniture improves health and productivity, is it safe to say that a non-ergonomic office space can cause health issues and distractions?
Adam: Absolutely. Office chairs and workstations that are designed with poor ergonomics can lead to both health issues, such as Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs), and workplace inefficiencies.
atWork: So you’re saying changing my chair could essentially prolong my life and earn me a raise?
Adam: (Laughing) Prolong your life, yes. I can’t really guarantee a pay increase though. But seriously, an ergonomic chair is key. A well-designed chair will not only reduce the stresses and pressure points placed on your body as a result of prolonged sitting, but it will also make your office space more comfortable. You’ll spend less time fidgeting and more time focusing.
…An ergonomic chair is key. A well-designed chair will not only reduce the stresses …You’ll spend less time fidgeting and more time focusing.
atWork: What’s the best way to shop for an ergonomic office chair?
Adam: First off, it’s important to note that “adjustable” is not another word for “ergonomic”. We’ve all had bad experiences with chairs that have more knobs, levers and buttons than an airplane control panel. Increased adjustability does not provide any specific ergonomic benefit; in fact, if set improperly, these adjustments can actually provide more harm than good.
Good ergonomic design should be invisible, especially in an office chair. The support should be natural and an integral part of the design.
atWork: When testing an ergonomic chair, what features should a customer look for?
Adam: Key design features of an ergonomic chair include sufficient lower back (lumbar) support, a quality reclining mechanism, and a design that consciously promotes a dynamic sitting position.
atWork: We’ve talked a lot about chairs – what about our desks?
Adam: I’m glad you asked… One of the fundamental design challenges in today’s modern office is the standard desk height. The average desk is 29.5″ high. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 5.0″ or 6.6″; you’re forced to work on a surface that’s set to this height. When shopping around for a new desk, if possible look for one that can be adjusted to suit your stature.
atWork: How can the average office worker improve the ergonomics of their workspace?
Adam: The first step is investing in a great chair. Select a chair that is easy to adjust and that provides support and movement. Next, assess your workspace height and layout. Since our posture is very often dictated by what we’re looking at and what we’re doing with our hands, properly positioning your keyboard, mouse and monitor is crucial.
With that being said, without some guidance, proper work tools and training, your team is still going to have issues. Rearranging the furniture won’t fix the problem unless there’s a method to the madness. In order to make sure that workers benefit from the full value of ergonomic work tools and set up, education is paramount.
Humanscale is a global leader in ergonomic design and consulting services and is based out of New York City. Adam Labelle is an Associate Ergonomist with Humanscale and is based in Toronto, ON and runs Humanscale Consulting in Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.