Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Science of Seating Selection

Ergonomics of seating in churches ...

"If you see people squirming this Sunday, try not to take it personally. Sometimes it’s not you — it’s your ergonomics.

Stated simply, ergonomics is an applied science that seeks to improve the design and function of tools and other objects used by people. By understanding the range and capability of the human body, ergonomists look at a seating choice depending on who will be sitting in the chairs, how long they’ll remain there, and the functions these people will be expected to perform.

To help us break down the anatomy of an ergonomically sound church seating choice, I worked with four collegiate professors and culled the research of various related associations. In the end, it seems a good chair is simply a sum of the quality of its parts.

The E-Word

Most people have heard the term “ergonomics” before, but it’s usually in reference to office furniture. Its applicability to church seating is considerably less notable – but experts say there’s a reason for this: design increases in importance with the time spent in a chair.

“Sitting places more pressure on your lower back than standing and can result in more problems and discomfort,” explains Cindy Burt, MS, OTR, ergonomics program manager at UCLA’s Environment, Health & Safety Dept. As such, she places more importance on a chair’s design if someone will be sitting in it for prolonged periods of time (i.e., a total of three or more hours a day).

The fact that many chairs in a worship environment won’t see this kind of use changes how churches should shop, explains Alan Hedge, Ph.D., a Cornell Univ. ergonomics professor and director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory.

“It’s doubtful that people sit on church seats for long enough to cause a back injury,” Hedge says. “However, for people with back injuries, even an hour on a chair that’s uncomfortable can be too much.”

John Lloyd, acting director of the Center for Product Ergonomics at the Univ. of South Florida, agrees with Hedge: duration of exposure is indeed a key factor in seating selection. The considerations would be more lenient for a seat that’s used only one hour per day vs. 40 hours per week, as is the case with office chairs.

In fact, Lloyd adds, properly designed church pews are “perfectly fine” for anyone free of medical factors requiring special considerations, such as preexisting back, neck or hip problems. Otherwise, experts recommend making an investment in special, adaptable seating for a limited number of the congregation."    (Continued via Church Business)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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