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Specialist Seating in Shared Environments

  • 4 min read

During a site tour at a Smart Working network meeting this week, there was a brief discussion about how to deal with bespoke “Occupational Health” chairs specified for personnel in hot desking environments. These offices are intended, by definition, to provide generic layouts suitable (as far as possible) for anyone and everyone. If, for instance, one employee has a particular chair recommended because of a back injury (or other musculoskeletal problem), the management of this non-standard chair could disrupt the smooth operation of the office and reduce the effectiveness of the hot desking arrangements. During the tour, there were ideas suggested about getting the Facilities team to keep such a chair locked away when not required but this is clearly sub-optimal.  Whilst it may ease the pain of the individual for whom the chair is supplied, it creates a very different sort of pain for others!

As a supplier of thousands of these “specialist” chairs, it seemed right that I should provide some guidance for this situation.

Here is Stage 1 of my suggested procedure:

  1. Choose a supplier who understands your requirements. This is not just about the correct chair specification but also about your operational needs.
  2. Ensure that the supplier delivers the chair and arranges setup and training by an experienced operative who can demonstrate to the user what they need to achieve (in terms of setup and ergonomics) and how to do it (what all the knobs and levers are for). Our own installation personnel have all completed a 2-day Advanced DSE Assessors’ course to ensure that they understand why the chair was supplied and what it must achieve.
  3. Allow your employee about an hour with the installer to be fully trained and familiarised with the chair so that he/she is completely confident about how to adjust it.  Do not rush this! If it takes longer, be patient. This is time well spent.
  4. Ensure that the user is provided with printed (or, better still, online) instructions about posture and workstation layout as well as chair adjustment controls so that they know what they want to achieve and how to do it. If possible, arrange for the creation of links to online resources from within your intranet.
  5. As a final line of ongoing support, your chair supplier should provide a business hours telephone help line providing instant access to someone who is familiar with that type of chair and can talk a user through the setup process.  (Our Customer Service team also complete the 2-day Advanced DSE Assessor course). If you are also supplying “specialist” chairs for home users, the help line number should be 0800 or a similar freephone facility.

You now have a fully equipped and supported individual who is confident about adjusting and readjusting their chair so you are ready for Stage 2.

  1. Declare that the individual for whom the chair was specified has sole right to its use when in the office.
  2. At all other times, it can be used by anyone.
  3. Ensure that all potential users know how to access the online posture guidance, chair instructions and telephone helpline.

Once this is implemented, you may consider that a Stage 3 is needed (or perhaps I should call this Stage 0)! If you did not provide proper training for users when the generic seating was provided, it is very likely that many (possibly most) people are sitting in badly adjusted chairs. Their posture could therefore be creating potential musculoskeletal problems in the future. My recommendation would therefore be:

  1. Go back to your contract chair supplier.
  2. Ask them to provide training and insist that this training contains the two complementary elements. Many suppliers do the “how” training (what the knobs and levers do) but users need to understand “why” (what is a good posture and why is it important to set up the workstation properly?).
  3. Get the training and instructions incorporated into your intranet because printed instructions tucked under the chair seat are very often ignored and prone to getting lost.
  4. Make sure the supplier has a help line for those who need to be talked through the setup process again.
  5. If all these services are not available, perhaps you should review your supplier!

Of course, all of these principles will also apply to the configuration of monitors, foot rests and any ancillary equipment. Indeed, any thorough training and setup will incorporate them into the process. I should also mention that there may be some chairs which will be quite unsuitable for anyone but the specified user and for which this procedure will not work, but these will be a small minority.

Finally, there will be those who read this and think it’s all a waste of time! To those people, I suggest that the driver’s seat of a vehicle is very much like a workstation. I don’t think people get into a car that was last used by somebody else and think “I know I can’t reach the brake but I don’t have time to adjust the seat”. We have worked with thousands of individuals who wish they had paid rather more attention to their chair setup and posture so that they could have prevented, delayed or reduced their current musculoskeletal problems!

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