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Ergonomic Design, Analysis Is Important When Purchasing Furniture for City Employees

July 31, 2000

Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities and physical characteristics of the worker. A quality furniture manufacturer takes a three-level approach when implementing ergonomics.

First Level

  • At the most basic level, the manufacturer impacts the ergonomic climate through the design of the furniture. Like good design elements, ergonomic features should be in the forefront of product design, thus becoming inherent in the design. Therefore, anyone who uses the furniture benefits. For example, an overhead system that needs no instruction can also eliminate awkward lifting by using pneumatics to raise the door for overhead storage. This lifting can be done with one finger while seated. All systems furniture should offer a choice of power and data at the work surface level, so users do not have to crawl under the desk to plug in a laptop or look for a data port. This is especially important for workers who use laptops that are locked away every evening. Adjustable tables let a person easily control the height of the worksurface. The best chair has a synchronized tilt that promotes a supported stretch throughout the workday without adjusting anything.

Second Level

  • Quality manufacturers of office systems furniture should have product lines that focus solely on ergonomics. Ergonomic support tools such as keyboard trays, wrist rests and task lighting are extremely important to the physical well-being of employees. Special details provide additional support, including such items as CPU holders that turn for easy access, not only for disc insertion, but also for wire access in the back. This aids the computer user, who can angle the CPU for easy access, and facilitates computer installers when attaching new equipment.

    Another city employer concern of direct importance and consequence in ergonomics is increased productivity. Once injury prevention is attained, the next goal is to increase employee productivity. Products that support increases in productivity through devices such as paper management tools that can be selected by individual workers, improve the specific way in which they work and directly help and support these efforts. Productivity enhancement should be a value measure in any ergonomic program.

    Seating design should be dedicated to creating ergonomic seating that provides for easy, one-time adjustments for proper fitting and then work everyday without touching a lever or button to provide supported movement for the user. Seating should also focus on comfort and adjustability.

    Buyers should seek out manufacturers that support a non-obsolescence policy. Manufacturers should build base products not only to be ergonomic, but also very durable. Since the durability is built in, when there is a change in technology or a new finding in research, the city can add components to existing products to keep pace with new developments. By practicing good design from the start, a manufacturer is able to add components when technology changes. This not only ensures that your investment keeps pace with changing technology and ergonomic research, but also creates an environmentally friendly product.

    Third Level

    • The third level of ergonomics consists of programs and tools the manufacturer has developed to ensure users are familiar with all products. Users learn how to adjust a product, why adjustments are important and what is recommended. By focusing on basic ergonomic principles, users have a better understanding of how best to utilize their work environment.

    Programs and tools include instructions that ship with each product as well as instructions on the manufacturer's web site that can be downloaded onto the city's intranet sites. Manufacturers or manufacturer's representatives should also offer personal training that can be customized to complement existing municipal ergonomic programs.

    The U.S. Conference of Mayors sponsors the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance procurement program for local government. The program provides cities and municipal governments access to competitively bid public contracts at significant discounts for long-term cost and operating efficiencies. Endorsed by the National Institute for Governmental Purchasing, NIGP, GPA contracts are non-exclusive and there are no fees required to use the program.

    This article was written by Maria Eppler, Ergonomic Specialist with Knoll Inc., one of the systems furniture manufacturers that provides services through the Government Purchasing Alliance. For more information, contact Knoll at 1-888-574-0266, visit Knoll's website at or contact Justin O'Brien of the Conference staff at 1-888-828-8763. Email:

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