Fitness Ball Is Not Suitable As A Chair
Keycode: web only
Category: Office Work,
Division Author: Ergonomics
Publication Date: 06 June 2005
Date First Published: 24 September 2002
Summary: This guidance note warns against the use of fitness balls as chairs and provides guidance on the selection of appropriate seating.
This guidance note is designed to help employers and employees understand why a fitness ball is not appropriate as a work chair. It also provides advice on sitting posture and the design of workplace chairs.
The fitness ball (also known as a 'Swiss', 'exercise' or 'physio' ball) is an inflatable ball designed for use in training and exercise programs, with a variety of exercises targeting different parts of the body. It is also used in physical rehabilitation programs, usually under the direction of a qualified instructor or health professional. Fitness ball manufacturers suggest that individuals may also find them useful to reduce back pain in sitting and to increase postural control. Some organisations and individuals have adapted their original use to one of providing a dynamic sitting surface, in place of a conventional office or workplace chair, in the belief that it will be of benefit to workers with back pain.
Using a fitness ball at work
There is little, if any, evidence of scientific trials or studies to demonstrate that the effect fitness balls have in exercise and training makes them suitable for use on a daily basis as a seat at work. The use of a fitness ball to provide exercise opportunity should not be confused with the requirement to provide suitable and safe workplace equipment. From the literature to date, researchers do not recommend the fitness ball to be a generic alternative to conventional seating in the workplace. Because employees use fitness balls for exercise, which includes sitting posture, this does not make them suitable for seating at work.
Work related injury managementThe use of a fitness ball may be recommended by a health professional for a specific person following a work related injury. In such a case the use of the ball should be prescribed in a documented and supervised treatment program that is integrated into
a return to work plan. The documentation should include recommendations about length of time over the day, duration of use and any other treatments provided. Prior to its use, a worksite assessment should be undertaken to ensure that the work can be safely performed while seated on the fitness ball.
The use of the fitness ball should be regularly reviewed by the relevant health professional.
(Note: For more information regarding the requirements of return to work plans see The Return to Work Guide for Victorian Employers, available from the Victorian WorkCover Authority.)
The problem of using a fitness ball as a chairUsing the fitness ball as standard seating would constitute a daily regime of constant exercising. There is no evidence that use
of the ball over a day has the beneficial effect that is expected when it is used as just one part of an exercise regime.
On the other hand providing fitness balls in a workplace may place the employer at risk of introducing a hazard.
An employer needs to assess the risk to health and safety where the balls are used, or planned to be used, as seating at work.
Known hazards include:
- High concentration levels and fatigue from sustained exercising.
- The initial upright posture is likely to be lost over a long period of sitting because there is not full seat and back support
- Upright postures are not able to be maintained during tasks requiring any reaching or moving around.
- Employees cannot swivel or navigate around the workstation.
- Getting on and off or reaching from the ball may constitute a falling hazard.
- The sitting surface does not provide adequate support for the buttocks and thighs.
There are some adaptations of the ball to fit within a standard adjustable chair base with a backrest. This would seem counterproductive as most of the exercise advantage would be lost, and the sitting surface would further decrease support for
the buttocks and thighs.
Chairs in the workplacePeople sit at work to perform tasks that require concentration, posture, stability and visual access, often to be sustained up to 8 or 9 hours. Computer usage is an example of such work. For these situations, seating should be supportive and not require
excessive work to maintain the seated posture. In general, seating for the workplace should:
- Be adjustable in height and back position.
- Be stable and safe to use, not putting people at risk of falling, particularly when getting on and off.
- Have appropriate lumbar and thigh support.
- Allow movement of the chair.
- Allow a variety of supported postures relevant for the sort of work being done.
Clearly the fitness balls do not have most of those characteristics and as such would be generally unsuitable for use as a work
Posture and the design of chairsSitting reduces energy expenditure during work. However prolonged sitting may also affect the trunk muscles and increase
compression on the spinal discs and the incidence of low back pain. Research shows that in sitting there is a significantly
increased load on the lower lumbar discs compared to standing erect, and an even larger load when sitting in a stooped
Researchers have determined that increasing the seat angle produces reduced muscle activity in the back and reduces disc
pressure. Leaning back at an angle between 110 and 120 degrees decreases disc pressure to even lower than that in standing.
In addition both lumbar support and the use of armrests have been found to always result in reduced disc pressure. Muscle
activity is reduced even further with a wider seat/backrest angle.
As a result, chairs have been developed with a variety of back rests and improved adjustability, including seat-to-backrest
angles. These features assist the sitter to achieve optimum posture. Modern approaches to chair design reject the concept of a
fixed 90 degree sitting posture, in favour of a more dynamic posture centred around an 'open' trunk-thigh angle of 105 degrees or more. A variety of chairs provide this dynamic posture, such as dynamic chairs (adjustable seat/backrest angle), 'sit/stand' chairs and 'sit/kneel' chairs.
Environment and work practicesSeating type, adjustment and 'comfort' are only some of the factors which influence risk from sitting at work. The length of
time that people sit, job design that does not provide opportunity for a variety of postures, the pressures of deadlines, the
layout of materials on desks, the lighting and glare, and the visual demands of the task, are all factors that need to be
considered. No matter what seating type is used, education is required to ensure users understand the reasons for optimum
seated postures, how to adjust their seating, and the need to change postures and get up from seating at regular intervals.
Short term or intermittent use of fitness balls may be appropriate as a physical rehabilitation aid as part of a proper
In general, WorkSafe Victoria recommends that fitness balls are not to be used as dedicated workplace seating.
The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 requires employers to provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, a workplace
that is safe and without risk to health. This means that employers need to take into account what is known about safe design
of workplace equipment and work activities and implement suitable systems of work. The employer has a duty to carry out a
hazard identification of equipment and plant, and assess and control any potential risk which may occur.
Employers will not satisfy their legal duties to make work safe by providing fitness balls as furniture. This doesn't apply to a
situation where a health professional has recommended limited use of a fitness ball as a work chair as part of a rehabilitation
program. In that case it would clearly be consistent with the employer's duties.
Acts and Regulations
- Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004
- Occupational Health and Safety (Manual Handling) Regulations 1999
Acts and regulations are available from Information Victoria on 1300 366 356 or order online at www.bookshop.vic.gov.au.
View the legislation at Victorian Law Today at www.legislation.vic.gov.au.
- AS 4438 -- 1997:Height adjustable swivel chairs
- AS 4438 - 1997: Amendment 1: 1999 Height Adjustment Swivel Chairs
Copies of standards can be obtained by contacting Standards Australia on 1300 654 646 or by visiting the web site at www.standards.com.au.
WorkSafe Victoria publications
- Manual Handling (Code of Practice No.25, 2000)
- Officewise -- A guide to health and safety in the office
Copies of publications, including Codes of Practice, can be obtained by contacting WorkSafe Victoria on 03 9641 1333, or your local WorkSafe Victoria office.
Other useful health and safety information is available on WorkSafe Victoria's web site. Or contact our Advisory Service on 9641 1444 or toll free 1800 136 089.
Victorian Workcover Authority publicationsReturn to Work Guide for Victorian employers Copies of publications can be obtained by contacting the Victorian WorkCover Authority on 03 9641 1333.
National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (WorkSafe Australia) publications
- Ergonomic Principles and Checklists for the Selection of Office Furniture and Equipment
Copies of publications can be obtained by contacting the Australian Government Info Shop on (03) 9670 4224 (Toll free 132 447), by visiting the NOHSC web site at www.ascc.gov.au or email the Info Shop at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Special Note on Codes of Practice: Codes of Practice made under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985 provide practical guidance to people who have duties or obligations under Victoria's OHS laws. The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 allows the Minister for Workcover to make Compliance Codes which will provide greater certainty about what constitutes compliance with the OHS laws.
Codes of Practice will continue to be a practical guide for those who have OHS duties and WorkSafe will continue to regard those who comply with the topics covered in the Codes of Practice as complying with OHS laws. WorkSafe will progressively review all Codes of Practice and replace them with guidance material and in appropriate cases, with Compliance Codes.
Note: This guidance material has been prepared using the best information available to WorkSafe Victoria. Any information about legislative obligations or responsibilities included in this material is only applicable to the circumstances described in the material. You should always check the legislation referred to in this material and make your own judgement about what action you may need to take to ensure you have complied with the law. Accordingly, the Victorian WorkCover Authority extends no warranties as to the suitability of the information for your specific circumstances.