For several years now I have thoughts that the world of office ergonomic furniture is at best odd and worst bonkers. I am very glad to see in the last few months 2 colleagues who I greatly respect and admire from the world of occupational health (Jean Fisher) and furniture sales (Guy Osmond) are both coming to the same conclusion, all be it from completely different perspectives.

The problem is that the company H&S manager /occupational health nurse / physio etc. sees an ergonomic need and feels that it outside of their professional practice to advise on what “ergonomic” chair desk etc. is required by the employee to “fix” their problem. They call in a specialist office ergonomics company, who send out an assessor (AKA a salesman) who then “prescribes” products from their range to solve the problem.

In Jean Fishers blog she presents the argument that the ergonomic office chair industry is self-serving and sells over-priced product. I agree that there is a lot of very expensive furniture out there that is lying around in offices unused, misused or appearing on e-bay that has been supplied directly from furniture companies, and via Access to Work.

Guy Osmond on the other hand is firmly in the camp that states that the H&S / occupational health / physio does not have a detailed knowledge of the 100’s of chairs that are available in the UK market place and need furniture assessors to advise correctly on what is required. He acknowledges that the referral process does look skew but argues that companies who over prescribe will get found out by their customers sooner or later, and that an honest supplier will be the one that remains in business, which he has successfully for many years, and hopefully for many to come. This makes sense to me, but why should it take a commissioner of the services numerous case examples to be able to see how good their supplier is?

Maybe we need to ask some searching questions of this whole industry and look for innovate evidenced based, cost effective new strategies. I think the key questions are

1.What is an ergonomic chair?

There is no definition! I will explain this more deeply in a future Blog, but for the moment let’s say it is either a chair that has a high degree of flexibility so that will fit a large percentage of the population, and or a chair that has the capacity to enable a worker to sit in the chair with a high degree of support and comfort.

2. If someone is in pain and discomfort will a chair actually fix their problem?

Why is the referral being made in the first place? Almost certainly it is because the worker is in pain or discomfort. Does just giving someone an expensive all singing dancing chair “cure” their pain? Probably not, for 2 reasons.

  1. Evidence such as the research performed by Boss Design and Loughborough University in 2014 that even if good furniture is issued to a worker it does not mean that it is used well.
  2. The underlying reason for the pain more than often needs to be addressed.

3.  How can a none medical salesman diagnosis the problem and prescribe a solution without understanding the medical needs of the individual?

Firstly, I have to say that there are some salesmen /ladies out there whose knowledge is impressive. Having worked with Chris McGrath recently (now with PSI) I can testify that his knowledge base on the furniture industry is second to none, as is Guy Osmond and a few other people in the industry I have had the pleasure to work with over the years. However, it is beyond their scope of practice to look at the worker holistically and advice on wider issues and needs that are required to deliver a well formed outcome of a worker that is happier and healthier.

4. Is there a better way?

Both Access to Work and the direct sales have the major disadvantage that they only look at the DSE provision, and if an OH practitioner deliver the assessment their knowledge of the market place and the latest evidence on seating and active working is limited as is the case for many practitioners as this is a very specialised field and new products and ideas are coming out all the time. We believe the way forward is for a new generation of OH practitioners to come through who combine well-grounded OH and Physiotherapy skills as most of the office furniture problems are MSK based, an extensive knowledge of the furniture industry and of active working strategies.

Do these people exist?

Yes, but they are few and far between.  If you are interested in this fresh approach, and want a balanced holistic view taken of your employee who is struggling at work, contact us and we would be delighted to talk through your requirements.


Jean Fisher (2017) Blog. Linked In

Shorrock, S (2016) Ergonomics & Human Factors in Practice. CRC Press Chapter 23 Guy Osmond Pg 299- 305

Boss Design (2014) Are we sitting comfortably? Available form Boss Design, Wednesbury, UK.