Sitting Yourself to Death: The hidden danger in chairs
Chairs are everywhere. I’m sitting in a chair while I write this article; chances are you’re sitting in a chair to read it. In fact, according to some medical researchers, Americans are literally sitting themselves to death. There are bleachers at the ball game, chairs at the restaurant, benches at the park, even seats at the gym; but can you remember the last chair you sat in? I’m guessing you can’t, unless it was uncomfortable, and even then, can you really remember what kind of chair it was or how it was made? Did it ever occur to you to double check that your chair was safe; that it was set on solid, flat ground? What about the chairs your kids sit in?
I ask because defective chairs can cause some very serious injuries. A report released this month suggests that since 2003 there has been an alarming 22% increase in the number of children injured while using high chairs. Adults too are at risk. Of course, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t use chairs. On the contrary, we depend on them and they’re great, most of the time. However, it would be prudent to take a moment to think about some of the ways in which chairs can go wrong, and more importantly, what we can do to stay safe.
Residential v. Commercial
Some chairs are made for personal use only. They’re designed to provide seating for a limited number of people in settings like your living room or kitchen. In their lifetime, probably less than 100 people will ever sit in these chairs, and those who do use them probably treat them with at least a little respect. Furthermore, most chair owners buy chairs appropriate for their intended use. Kids sit in kid’s chairs, adults in adult chairs, etc.
In commercial settings like stores or restaurants, chairs must meet higher standards. Chairs designed for personal use should never be used in a commercial setting. Hundreds of people of all ages and sizes may sit in a single chair in a single day. To make matters worse, most of them won’t think twice about how they treat the chair. Over time, this intensity of use can take a toll on even the best-made furniture. Residential chairs just aren’t designed for this kind of abuse; they can’t stand up to it, literally. And when they give way so does the person seated on the chair, sometimes to terrible effect.
Design and Manufacture
Even chairs that are intended for commercial use can only be expected to function properly if they’re properly designed and manufactured. Chairs that are designed for fashion may not be any more suitable for commercial use than a chair designed for residential use. And manufacturing mistakes can turn a well-designed chair into a dangerous product that is not fit for its purpose.
Often, commercial furniture comes with some assembly required. Unfortunately, not every venue goes to the time and effort of following all of the manufacturer’s instructions for properly setting up benches and chairs. As a result, even well made furniture may not hold up under ordinary use.
Chairs only work properly when there is something supporting them. Most chairs are designed for use on solid, dry, and level surfaces. Soft earth, slippery concrete, and uneven patios can all pose serious chair related hazards. For example, most plastic chairs are built in such a way that they can only hold a person’s weight when all four legs are on solid ground. Placed on an uneven surface, or leaned back, these chairs cannot bear the uneven weight that results and one or more legs may break or give-out, dropping an unsuspecting person to the ground. Even sturdy looking metal chairs can give out if they are placed on a dangerous surface.
Maintenance and Records
Chairs, stools, couches, benches, and all the rest require regular maintenance to stay working as designed. Bolts come loose, parts break, plastic degrades in the sun, weather wears away supports; wear and tear and other issues combine to reduce the safety of all seating surfaces over time. Without a thorough inspection, maintenance and replacement schedule, a venue has no way of knowing if their seating is safe.
I’ve heard people laugh at the idea of getting seriously hurt by a broken chair. We have all seen pratfalls in TV shows and movies where everyone gets a laugh at the performer who tumbles to the ground from a chair. However, I have seen first-hand the serious injuries that can occur from dangerous chairs. Common chair-related injuries include broken bones, torn shoulder joints, herniated spinal discs, and concussions. Children who fall from improperly designed high chairs can sustain life-threatening head trauma, and for some elderly persons even the slightest fall can lead to ultimately fatal complications. Chair injuries should be taken seriously, especially as they appear to be on the rise.
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