Starting as a basic-enough solution to the backaches and sore necks that workers suffered from prolonged computer use, ergonomic chairs have turned into modern art. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, “ergonomics” refers to the science of equipment design to maximize musculoskeletal comfort and support, especially in the workplace. With funky chair backs, arms and design-centric features, ergonomic chairs have become healthy alternatives for the office.
Polish biologist Wojciech Jastrzebowski created the term “ergonomics” in 1857. Derived from the Greek words “ergon” (work) and “nomos” (natural laws), he used the word in an article he wrote which, translated from Polish, is “The Outline of Ergonomics, i.e. Science of Work, Based on the Truths Taken from the Natural Science.” The term “ergonomics” entered the language and stuck.
According to NewErgonomicChairs.com, a site that provides information for interested buyers, workplaces and musculoskeletal injury associations have been happening for centuries. Bernardino Ramazinni (1633-1714), a medical practitioner, complained of work-related injuries in a 1700s supplement called “De Morbis Artificum” (Diseases of Workers).
Factories to Offices
Developed in the 1950s, the science behind ergonomics applied primarily to factory workers who sustained injuries, like arthritis, from repetitive labor.
However, with the approach of computers and the office workplace in the 1980s, furniture designers needed to think of new office designs for people continually at work on computers.
Office workers began complaining of aches and pains caused from prolonged sitting. Companies had to recognize these injuries as workplace injuries and pay medical support to employees who suffered backaches, neck cramps, arthritis from typing from an incorrect angle, and other ailments.
First Chair: Wildfred Dauphin
Office workers in the 1980s complained of aches and pains from sitting.
In 1968, Wilfred Dauphin, a German, was hired by a British company to research the impact of the computer on office furniture requirements. Because the British firm could not implement his full idea, he and his wife founded their own company out of their garage. Dauphin created the first ergonomic chair–a basic chair that allowed sitters to adjust the back and seat height. The market for these comfortable, adjustable chairs arose in Germany and spread around Europe and into the United States.
The first ergonomic chairs featured adjustable seats and wheels.
In the 1980s and 1990s, ergonomic chairs met the basic requirements for producing healthier ways to sit and type. Chairs included wheels, a lever to adjust height, lower back support, and the correct heights for viewing and typing with straight wrists. Chairs were simple in design and aesthetic but met the general ergonomic guidelines.
By 2010 chairs had become works of modern art. Space Age looking chairs feature rounded back support, mesh netting fabric for comfort and posture, tall and ribbed backs, and dental-looking chairs that exactly fit the curvature of the spine.
As of 2010, furniture designers had developed chairs for the modern worker who is glued to her computer not only for work but also in her off hours, browsing the Web, writing blogs, and posting photos.
Chair types include kneeling chairs (where the worker sits with their thighs at an angle of about 60 degrees to 70 degrees from the original 90 degrees); ball chairs, where the worker sits in an egglike chair to talk on the phone or work on a laptop with a relaxed back; and the bubble chair, patented by Finnish designer Eero Aarnio in 1968, that looks similar to the ball chair but hangs from a chain on the ceiling. Although bubble chairs are not ideal for the office, they are comfortable and stylish additions to lounges, libraries and other communal spaces.
The backs of modern chairs curve with the spine, not against it.
According to the website of UbuntuToronto, an ergonomic product company, an interested shopper looking to buy needs to look for a truly ergonomic chair’s standard features. When seated, the back of the chair should curve with the spine. Your feet should rest level on the floor or footrest, and your shoulders should relax with the elbows close to the body. Ergonomic chairs also typically have wheels for easy swiveling and relocating without the user having to constantly stand up and sit down, which strains back muscles.
By Noelle Carver, eHow Contributor