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Dealing with standing limitations

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Workers who have stamina or standing limitations can often benefit by alternating between sitting and standing to reduce or alleviate fatigue and back discomfort. Different types of stools or chairs might be considered as options depending on the type of work setting, the specific nature of the workstation, and specific tasks and activities that the worker will need to perform.

This look at sit/stand accommodations was prompted by a recent inquiry concerning a 52-year old barber with knee problems that restricted his ability to stand. This individual had worked for 30 years as a barber, and he wanted to continue working in this capacity. Stools and raised seats that can be used to work in a semi-standing position were considered. One option, a "Rol-Seat", featured a height-adjustable small round seat that pivots on two wheels and is attached to the barber's chair. Unfortunately, although this device appeared to be a possible solution, attempts to locate the manufacturer were not successful, and it appears that the product has been discontinued.

Subsequent discussion on the RESNA listserv looked into a number of possibilities for this individual and also helped to identify general factors to be considered with sit/stand accommodations.

Chair features to consider

  • Height and seat angle adjustability matches the stool support to the correct height for the user.
  • Swivel capability allows the worker to reach the work task area easier.
  • Arm rests provide support for the arms during some task activities and provide support if the user needs to use his arms to raise or lower himself into the seat.
  • Backrests provide additional back/lumbar support.
  • Footrests provide support and additional stability.
  • Seat surfaces, such as slip or non-slip fabric or surface textures, can be important for stability and maintenance in certain environments.
  • Stationary bases provide more stability while working.
  • Caster bases allow the user to move easily within the work area.
  • Locking casters, which will "lock" the wheels of a seat when weight is applied, may improve stability for individuals with balance problems. However, locking casters limit the ease of moving the stool, which could restrict someone changing positions while doing work such as cutting hair.

Types of stools and chairs

Saddle Stools - These height-adjustable chairs or stools are mounted on rollers and look somewhat like a horse saddle that you straddle. Two examples are the Salli Saddle Chair and the Bambach Saddle, which can be obtained through many sources. These stools are designed for a number of work settings, including hairdressing. The Bombach has an optional backrest feature.

Sit/Stand Stool Designs - These ergonomically-designed office and industrial stools allow the user to work in a semi-standing position. Bases are usually fixed or non-slip and work best for activities that do not involve frequent position change. The contoured seats have height, tilt and swivel adjustment. Check out the Ergostoreonline web site, International Source for Ergonomics, or search under sit/stand stools and ergonomic seating for other possible options.

Standard Office Chairs and Stools - Chairs with adjustable ergonomic features are also available. These lower cost alternatives can be found through standard office and industrial seating sources, so they can often be tried out in retail stores before purchase. Review office supply catalogs or search online under ergonomic stools or seating for possible options.

Selecting the right product

There are many commercially available stools and seating options that may be appropriate. With any of the alternatives, it is important to allow the individual to actually try the stool or chair. The greatest factor influencing whether sit/stand options will be used on a day-to-day basis is the worker's comfort with using the stool. The stool will need to be easy for the person to use, move about in the work area, and store. It is also important to make sure that unique needs such as balance or trouble moving into a standing position are accommodated. In addition, when alternative seating is considered in the workplace, the employer should be involved from the onset. Co-workers and others in the immediate work area can also influence how well an accommodation may be accepted. Each situation will vary and accommodation suggestions will likely differ as specific information and preferences are identified. Cost for the seating options noted above range from approximately $160-$1600.

Product Information

  • International Source for Ergonomics -

Author: Tony Langton
Affiliation: Originally published in the Nov. 2002 TC Direct Newsletter for the NIDRR-funded Tech Connections project.

Thanks go to Denis Anson (Misericordia College), Frank Coombs (Georgia Department of Labor/Assistive Work Technology), Mike Gawronski, (Center for Rehabilitation Technology - Helen Hayes Hospital), Ray Grott (University of San Francisco), and Paul Schwartz (Center for Assistive Technology and Assessment - University of Wisconsin-Stout) for providing input to this discussion.