July 21, 2015

Are you sitting comfortably?

Do your employees complain about uncomfortable chairs? If so, your office seating could be a major Health & Safety risk.

Staff members often identify chairs as the main cause of their back aches. Studies have found that in the life cycle of an office chair in a typical year that the average chair spends around 2000 hours in use.

Is it any wonder then that a worn, poorly maintained chair can have an impact on health, physical comfort and wellbeing?

What sort of chairs should I purchase?

HSE Guidance documents provide some guidance on seating at work. These include:

  • Is the upholstery sufficiently supportive and comfortable?
  • Are edges sufficiently padded and shaped to prevent uncomfortable pressure on the thighs?
  • Does the chair have adequate types and ranges of adjustment?
  • Is the height adjustable to allow work to be carried out at or below elbow height?
  • Does the backrest adjust sufficiently in height and depth to allow the user to gain support?
  • Are armrests suitable for the task and workstation?
  • Do the armrests allow the user to bring the chair far enough forward?
  • Do the arm rests allow adequate arm movement?
  • Are footrests required and if so, are they suitable?
  • Are there special requirements for a chair at this particular workstation?
  • Are there special user requirements?
  • Are there special task requirements?

As with all things in health and safety, it is about your Risk Assessment.

Under the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 employers must assess risks in the workplace, including seating.

A risk assessment involves identifying hazards and deciding whether enough has been done to prevent harm to people.

There are 5 simple steps that employers can take to make sure that a proper risk assessment has been done.

1. Look for the hazards

  • Assess all seating to see what may cause harm. Non-adjustable chairs, for example, may cause back pain.
  • Adjustable chairs incorrectly set up can also contribute to harm.
  • Fire resistant materials should be used to prevent spread of fire.
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 require employers to ensure that work equipment provided is maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair.

2. Decide who might be harmed

  • For the most part this will be any potential user of a chair.
  • Where you have home workers and the likely hood of children, safety needs to be considered where they may use the chair.

3. Evaluate the risks

  • Is the seating suitable and safe?
  • Does it meet the needs for the user?

4. Record the findings

Employers with 5 or more employees are required by law to have a written record of their risk assessment. This is so that:

  • People in the workplace are informed about hazards and are therefore better placed to deal with them
  • Safety representatives can use the information to carry out their duties
  • Any action  taken can be referred to in the future in a similar circumstance

5. Review the assessment regularly

The seating risk assessment should be checked periodically with a view to assessing the impact of any changes in:

  • The working environment bending reaching
  • Equipment employees should be encouraged to report problem
  • Personnel (for example a pregnant worker may require more suitable seating)
  • One of the main issues around the provision of the office chair is in setting it up what needs to be done and how do you do it.
  • Over the day a chair can be used by several people who continually change the settings.
  • Training of staff to adjust mechanism to set up chairs to their needs.
  • Your supplier may provide this set up facility training

Possible set up

  • The front edge of the seat should be 2 fingers width behind the top of the thighs and the users back properly in the back of the chair.
  • Where setting up for tall people a seat slide mechanism to adjust seat depth is desirable.
  • Chair back support should be in contact with the lower and middle part of the back to provide adequate support.
  • To achieve this in most cases it will  mean it needs to be adjustable in both height and rake.
  • Pump / mechanisms  which adjust seat and back angle simultaneously can be a benefit but  this may come as additional cost, in most cases a simple back rake adjustment is adequate .
  • Arms: If desired should be suitable for both the task and the workstation. Will they make contact with the front edge of the desk? Do they adjust in height such that the user can work with horizontal forearms?
  • These are only guide lines and a more detailed set up may be necessary and consulting with occupational Health & Safety.

If you need any advice in this area, you can contact us. Alternatively, can subscribe to our monthly legislation updates by clicking to the right.

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About the author

Eamon Griffin