What is ergonomic furniture?

Ergonomic furniture is any item of furniture—a chair, table, or desk—that is designed to allow someone to use the furniture without repetitive stress injury. Those who design furniture ergonomically follow a set of scientific principles that help people use furniture to stay healthy, while maximizing performance. Essentially, any furniture designed around the science and study of ergonomics would be considered ergonomic furniture.

Ergonomics, also called human engineering, is the study of how the human body works and interacts with objects. The results of the ergonomic study are used in the design of methods and equipment that allow humans to carry out their work efficiently, comfortably and safely, both in the short and long term. For example, an ergonomics study might involve determining the best method for performing a repetitive task, such as cutting beef. The study could focus on avoiding short-term muscle fatigue that could lead to injury and avoiding long-term damage to joints and tendons from repetitive stress.

Ergonomic furniture is designed according to the results of ergonomic studies. For example, an ergonomic chair would be designed to ensure that the person sitting in the chair is using proper posture. The chair would have a 90-degree seat back angle and lumbar support for the lower back to prevent stress on the back muscles or long-term spinal damage. An ergonomic chair would also offer adjustable features, ensuring that people of different sizes can adjust the height of the seat to allow them to sit with their feet flat on the floor and their knees at a 90-degree angle. Even the design of the adjustable armrests can contribute to the comfort of an ergonomic chair.

The equipment in use does not have to touch the worker to be considered ergonomic furniture. A desk or table can also be designed as an ergonomic piece of furniture. For example, an ergonomic desk should be at the right height for the worker so that the worker doesn't have to stretch or slouch uncomfortably to work on top of the desk. If the computer equipment will be used on an ergonomic desk, the keyboard shelf must be at the proper height and the display monitor must also be angled correctly.

When it comes to computer equipment, the use of ergonomic furniture is particularly important. Chairs, desks, tables, and computer equipment must work together to ensure worker safety. Repetitive stress can be a serious health problem for computer workers who tend to sit and type for long periods of time. Using ergonomic furniture can help prevent repetitive stress problems.

Even if you buy ergonomic furniture, you can consult with an ergonomics specialist to make sure it's appropriate for your body type and the type of work you'll be using it for. Ergonomic furniture alone does not protect against repetitive stress injuries; you must also have it configured correctly. If you want to learn more about ergonomics, you can check out the US Department of Labor's Findings on Ergonomics and Ergonomic Furniture. Doing a search for "OSHA and ergonomics" should help you get there.

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