February 17th, 2006
How to buy ergonomic chairs and sell them to management
by Terry Cassaday
Originally published in Accident Prevention Magazine
Publication Date: January/February 2006
Ergonomists and experts agree: ergonomically correct chairs increase productivity and decrease costs. The challenge
is effectively communicating the critical benefits to other decision makers. Assuming you want to buy proper ergonomic seating for your workplace, there are two major issues to consider. First, you have to convince senior management to authorize the program. Second, you have to decide which chairs to buy.
Building your argument
First things first. Here are seven suggestions that can help you build a convincing argument for proper ergonomic seating.
1. Make a video of poor seating examples in your offices. Senior management may never notice the problems if you don’t show them.
2. Conduct a simple cost analysis. Take the cost of a proper ergonomic chair and subtract the cost of the chairs you are currently buying. The difference is what you need to justify. Take the difference and divide it by the number of workdays over five years. The cost per day will be around 20 cents or less. That’s less than most employees cost per minute. So, to justify the extra cost each employee only needs to work one more minute per day. Some studies indicate that the average employee works only 60 percent of the day.
3. Many ergonomists believe the only reason companies don’t implement ergonomic programs is because they have not taken the time to add up the costs of poor ergonomics. Find out what your costs are for absenteeism, employee turnover, injuries relating to poor seating postures, repairs of low quality chairs, increases in costs for insurance
and workers compensation, training new hires, increased errors, and indirect administration costs. Take every conservative estimates that can be easily justified to come up with a figure large enough to get management’s attention.
4. Remind management that these costs are not the cost of doing business. They are the cost of inefficiencies due to improper seating.
5. Most organizations learn things the hard way. They don’t take action until injuries occur and costs start setting off
alarm bells. If your organization has not had any significant injuries directly related to seating and you believe it’s
only a matter of time until you do, take a hypothetical but very possible injury and conduct a full cost analysis. Use very conservative assumptions. A general rule of thumb is that indirect costs relating to an injury are about three times the direct costs. This puts a number to the potential risk. Comparing the high potential cost of an injury to the low cost of prevention puts your concern into numbers, something management is more comfortable dealing with.
6. Remind management that inefficiencies due to improper seating start long before injuries occur.
7. Download and show senior management ergoCentric’s free video, “The Anatomy and Biochemistry of the Human
Body in the Seated Posture”. One of the reasons we created it was to create a better understanding of the issue.
Making the right choice
Once you have management approval to invest in ergonomic office chairs you have to ensure the chairs you buy actually deliver results. Here is our advice on how to get a positive return on your investment:
1. Hire an independent expert to help you determine which chair will be most suitable for your needs. If you are an expert, outside expertise may still be useful to get buy-in from management and staff.
2. Get employee buy-in by making them part of the process. Let them try out a chair for at least a week.
3. Once you have selected a type or category of chair, consider the diverse nature of your various employees. There is no way even the most adjustable chair can fit everyone. The cost savings of buying the same chair for everyone are very small compared to the cost of having people sitting on a chair that does not fit them. You don’t have to buy a different chair for everyone but some may need a smaller or larger seat, a lower or higher gas lift, or a higher back. For some, armrests are very helpful, while for others arms get in the way and reduce productivity.
4. Training is crucial, and it’s the step almost every organization neglects. Chairs have to be highly adjustable so they can fit most people and allow for changes in posture required by different job functions and changing physical needs. To get the full ergonomic benefits, users must fully understand how to adjust their chair and why.
Comparing the high potential cost of an injury to the low cost of prevention puts your concerns into numbers, something management is more comfortable dealing with.
5. Retrain every employee once a year. This will remind those who forget, catch new hires who were not trained when they started, and allow you to uncover and correct new problems before it’s too late. This is the simplest way to be proactive instead of reactive. Any successful ergonomic program must have support from the top or it’s not going to fly. Most CEOs assume proper seating has been taken care of and won’t know whether they have systems and compensation programs in place that actually prevent this from being the case.
If office chairs are considered commodities in your organization then they will be purchased using the same processes as all other commodities. Chairs used to be furniture, and now, owing to our better understanding of the stresses caused by the seated posture, they are essential work tools. This change may not yet be reflected in your organization’s systems.
Some organizations expect a single person to make decisions about office seating based solely on information found
in a product catalogue. A more effective purchasing process takes into account all of the issues we have discussed such as management commitment, resources, assessing user needs, training programs, taking a proactive approach, as well as the organization’s philosophy, culture and hierarchy. This big picture approach is more aligned with how upper management thinks, and may be the key to obtaining the support you need.
Read the article here.