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CHOOSING an ergonomic chair is a bit like shopping for a new dress or suit – it’s best to try before you buy.

While ergonomic chairs can reduce the likelihood of developing posture-related ailments, the range of chairs on the market makes careful choice imperative, according to Perth’s posture experts.

While price at the bottom-end of the scale should determine a chair’s basic ergonomics, when you get past the $400 mark it becomes a matter of extras.

Optima Risk Management director Terry Jones said many people attributed a chair’s quality to the way it looked and failed to assess its ergonomic ability.

“The criteria you are looking for may not be reflected in the eye of the purchaser,” he said.

“People look at leather and say: ‘It’s a quality chair’. They look at a high back and assume it’s an executive chair and is a good chair. They also look at the seat and equate a good seat with one that is deep, wide and high. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

“People overspend and are persuaded by the executive look over the design.”

WorkSafe senior ergonomist Rod Powell said people considering buying an office chair should find a chair to suit their occupation and not get caught up in the aesthetics.

“If you do a lot of keyboarding then it’s not recommended that you have a chair with arm rests,” he said.

“You need a chair that’s high enough. The ideal position is to have your elbows at the same height as your desk … you need good lumbar support. The leather ones sometimes don’t have that.”

Mr Jones said a common mistake was to buy a high back chair with no adjustments.

“It’s a mistake to buy a chair without a back rest height adjustment. Also, if the seat is too deep you can’t get good lumbar support,” he said.

Mike Hopkins Furniture sales consultant Leigh Sutcliffe said there were more expensive chairs on the market that did not provide as good lumbar support as the cheaper counterparts.

Mr Powell said that, as most chairs were designed on the law of averages, those buying for a large number of people could assume 90 per cent of the workforce would find them suitable. However, he said it was a good idea to offer choice.

Fitballs are also finding a niche in many workplaces, and while physios and gym experts are convinced of the balls’ benefits for posture and prevention of back injuries, workplace ergonomic experts are not convinced on their practicality.

Thinkfit director Janine Browne teaches health practitioners how to use the balls she sells, SmartBalls, and said people needed to be wary of cheaper balls on the market.

“You need to make sure the ball has an anti-burst rating. That means, say if it is in a workplace, rolling over a sharp object won’t cause it to explode,” Ms Browne said. “If you do not have a quality ball it will roll over the sharp object and explode like a balloon.”

She said the balls helped promote good posture.

“Usually when you sit in a chair you have static posture, there is no movement in the joints,” Ms Browne said. “On the ball there are small movements that manipulate the joints and lubricate them. It promotes an awareness of posture.

“You can still slump, you have to be aware of you are sitting on the ball.

She said the balls were not designed to replace office chairs.

“We recommend you share the ball between four people and rotate it around the group at 15-minute intervals,” Ms Browne said.

Mr Jones said that, while the balls offered health benefits, he would not recommend them for use in the workplace.

“From a therapeutic point of view they are very good but as a seat it is incredibly unstable. It does promote dynamic posture but there is a high risk of falling off and you have workers’ compensation issues,” he said.

“It’s not that it doesn’t promote posture it’s the inherent risk. The hazard potential is too great.”

WorkSafe is currently assessing the use of fitballs and will hand down a report later this month.

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