We've Got Your Back - And Your Front!

Can the backrest of a chair actually be a frontrest?

It can now, thanks to Texas-based, Neutral Posture, Inc. The company has developed both a high-tech chair and stool that gives seated workers the flexibility of turning their chair's backrest into an abdominal support with one simple motion.

With cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs) and back injuries on the rise in the workplace, Neutral Posture is marketing the space-age product, called the AbStool™, specifically for the needs of industrial employees, lab technicians, electronic assembly workers and anyone else frequently required to bend over their work.

The AbStool™, and its companion product the AbChair™, may sound like workout equipment you'd find at the gym, but they're actually state-of-the-art ergonomic furniture you'll soon find in offices, design studios, medical laboratories, and even industrial environments.

From eye surgeons hovering over a patient to lab workers leaning over a microscope, back injuries are on the rise, and cumulative trauma is one of the key contributors. Contrary to popular belief, back injuries don't necessarily occur from a single incidence--for instance, bending over and picking up a heavy object. Rather, back injuries are the result of repetitive motions, bad postures, and seated pressures over the course of months or even years.

The stool version features a height-adjustable footring, while the chair version allows users to put their feet firmly on the floor, depending on the task. Each product features numerous adjustable features, including multiple adjustments for the seat and the AbRest™. The rotating pillow is offset, to allow four different support positions, and the pillow's support bar features a smooth pivot action and cam-lock height adjustment.

Dr. Jerome Congleton, Certified Professional Ergonomist with Texas A&M University's School of Rural Public Health, is the inventor of the AbStool™. Congleton says it was developed to provide both flexibility and ease of adjustment for seated workers who specifically use stools.

"Obviously back support is a must," he explains, "but what people don't usually realize is that for assembly work, microscope use, electronic soldering, and a whole host of other tasks, the employee simply must bend over their work. And that requires a high degree of abdominal support."

With seven standard adjustable features, the AbStool™ is easily the most adjustable stool on the market, featuring 360-degree swivel, seat tilt, tilt tension control, a seat depth adjustment, adjustable seat height, and a separate height-adjustable support arm for the backrest. Additionally, the backrest/frontrest rotates on the support bar, offering users a few more inches of depth or height support. More important, perhaps, is the fact that the user can quickly move the support bar without having to get up out of the chair, which truly makes the AbStool™ design a cutting-edge solution to the problem of providing anterior support. "Believe it or not, there are still companies out there that haven't learned the driving principal behind ergonomics," laments Congleton. "Whether it's a keyboard tray, a work surface, a monitor arm, an office chair or a lab stool, it has to have one main feature--it must be highly adjustable."

The reason for the adjustability is simple, says Neutral Posture's VP of Engineering, Mark Benden. "Most chairs and stools are designed for the 'average' worker. The problem is, there's no such thing as an average worker. You can come up with a fifty percentile statistic for a male and a female, but in real life, when you look around your office or factory floor, you quickly see that employees come in all sizes and shapes."

Neutral Posture's owner and CEO, Rebecca Boenigk, shares an example of two female employees who are the exact same height and weight. "One may have a longer torso and shorter legs, while the other has longer legs and a shorter torso," she points out. "Or one may have longer arms, or a higher lumbar. Employers will either give them a chair that can be adjusted to fit the employees, or they will expect the employees to fit into the chair they give them. And if they require employees to fit into chairs that don't adjust to support their body, the result will be not only discomfort, but back injuries, neck and shoulder tension, and eventually missed work time and perhaps even a worker's compensation claim."

The company has set its sights on Fortune 500 industrial applications and laboratory facilities. The AbStool™ and AbChair™ make their official design debut at the 2004 NeoCon World Trade Fair, June 14-16 at the Chicago Merchandise Mart, where prototypes were modeled last year and feedback gathered from designers and distributors alike.