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Have a seat: picking the right office chair offers benefits to the "end user."

How often do you have a chance to save money, increase productivity, promote health and be nice all in one move? Selecting well-designed, adaptable office chairs is such an opportunity.

Customers are becoming more knowledgeable about seating and demanding more from manufacturers, says Kimball Office Furniture Co.'s Lori Eble. Part of Jasper-based Kimball International, the company offers more than 30 lines of office chairs.

Once the aim in the chair business was to accommodate 90 percent of body sizes and weights. Now manufacturers make chairs that will fit everyone, says Dick Oakes of Business Furniture Corp. in Indianapolis, the largest furniture dealer in the state. Short, tall and heavy people no longer are left out.

That's good, because the price of a new chair--even an expensive one--can seem cheap compared with the cost of absenteeism due to wrist, neck or back problems. Tom Dale of Midwest Computer Accessories in Indianapolis says the total price tag for a case of carpal tunnel syndrome could go as high as $80,000. Proper furniture selection can be a key preventive step.

Injury prevention grows in importance as more employees spend hours working at keyboards. Dale sells ergonomic chairs that help people avoid musculoskeletal problems while working with computers. He says that to be considered ergonomic, a chair must have adjustment potential in five areas: seat height and tilt, and backrest height, tilt and tension.

Chairs should be versatile because more than one person may use a unit. In a shift environment, three people--possibly of quite different heights and weights--could use a single chair in a day's time. Furniture manufacturers have responded. Domore Corp. in Elkhart, for example, has an Intensive Use Seating line designed to be especially durable as well as adjustable. One has a seat with an adjustable depth to fit each different user, armrests with adjustable width, and adjustable springs in the chair back. The versatility is good not only for shift workers; pregnant women also appreciate chairs that adapt to changing body weight and shape.

Tony Passannante, marketing manager at Domore, agrees that proper seating is key to injury prevention. "Seating is the best and first place to look" when carpal-tunnel symptoms develop, he says, adding that height of the chair and seat angle are important.

Computer users aren't alone in needing consideration in seating. Environmental Products of Kingsbury makes chairs adjustable for other specialized jobs. Among workers with specific chair requirements are draftsmen and microscope users; the latter workers must sit higher and tilt forward for their tasks. The company is especially noted for its seating for industrial work stations; its specialty is a chair lumbar area which moves up and down. Because of the nature of its market, Environmental Products tends to refer to its chairs by model numbers rather than names.

Environmental Products' James Robinson suggests that businesses also consider other office-chair users with specialized needs: older workers. Chairs younger people might tolerate--even though they shouldn't use them--might be disastrous for mature employees. An aging work force has certain health problems or susceptibilities; good chairs, properly adjusted, can help keep those people on the job.

With all of these different kinds of chairs, one would think an office could begin to look like a jumbled showroom full of different models. But manufacturers have addressed that potential problem. Take Kimball's top-selling line, Arena, as an example. Arena chairs come in several sizes and include executive, task and management models, which can be ordered with or without arms, and in open or fully upholstered armrest versions. But even when different fabrics and bases are selected, Arena chairs are designed so that all will be compatible in an office.

The same philosophy applies to another popular Kimball line, the Carrington Collection. Choices include executive, management and professional chairs, which differ in the height of the backs. Construction is of select hardwoods, and upholstery choices include both wool and leather. Once again, the chairs may be different, but the design is unified.

On the other hand, executives sometimes want chairs that look different. In that case, they may opt for Kimball's Magister line, which features simple design that fits well in contemporary and transitional environments. It can be ordered with any Kimball leather, or with the customer's own leather.

Executive chairs can show status in a number of ways: back height, overall size and upholstery. Perhaps chair arms will distinguish the executive's seating from that of a secretary. Yet there are constants in healthful seating for everyone. Good chairs have a "waterfall" edge--that's the downward curve at the seat front. The waterfall design protects the backs of the thighs instead of cutting as a squared edge would do. Thighs parallel to the floor and feet not dangling should be seating goals for all.

Leather is a long-time status favorite in office-chair upholstery. Leather-looks and nylon are popular choices. In health-care situations, vinyls may be essential, but Mona Hoffman of Jasper Seating says new patterns and colors change what once was regarded as a cheap plastic look.

Light cherry is one of today's desired lighter wood finishes in business furniture, according to Richard Franey of Huntingburg-based OFS, which stands for Office Furniture by Styline. Going back to earth tones in upholstery is a '90s trend, he says, but the browns and beiges are richer than in the past. His company, a full-fledged manufacturer of wood executive office furniture, has a new line of modular wood-case furniture available in walnut and cherry with 11 finish options.

Choosing office chairs from catalogs has been common practice. But with chairs and their features--such as pump-up lumbar supports--becoming so sophisticated, showroom shopping may be helpful. Business Furniture Corp. has a traditional catalog library, but it also boasts a chair room with some 40 types of ergonomic seating.

Buying a good chair could be just a first step--we may need to rethink our concept of working in one. Noe Palacios, an Indianapolis-based field marketing manager and ergonomist for Steelcase, thinks that for health reasons we'll have to change our attitudes about what is businesslike behavior in work places. Traditionally, the person who leans back in his chair appears to be lazy; Palacios says leaning back periodically is a good weight-distribution move. Also, people would benefit from getting up for a 3- to 5-minute break each hour, instead of relying on the standard widely spaced 15-minute respites. Chair armrests should be used for rest breaks but not while typing.

Great chairs, education and enlightened management can't make up for a worker's poor posture or failure to make proper adjustments. Responsibility for healthful seating ultimately lies with the person that manufacturers call--no pun intended--the "end user."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Keaton, Joanne
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Date:Jan 1, 1993
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