Optimize your life – Home working, Ergonomics & Design

Could my Office Chair Explode – Really?






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While it can seem like a plot from a James Bond movie, the reality is that office chairs can, indeed, explode. This article explores the causes, looks at the real-life instances and preventive measures associated with this rare but potentially very dangerous phenomenon.

The Unsettling Possibility: Can Office Chairs Explode?

In the realm of office furniture, the idea of an exploding chair may sound like an exaggerated myth or a tall tale. But the truth is office chairs can explode! Although rare, there have been instances where office and gaming chairs have exploded and caused serious and at times fatal injuries.

The primary culprit behind these unexpected occurrences are the pneumatic cylinders or gas lifts used to adjust the chair’s height.

Understanding Why Office Chairs Explode

The explosions in office chairs are primarily attributed to the malfunctioning of the pressurized gas pneumatic cylinder or gas lift, this component, typically hidden beneath the chair’s base, is used for height adjustment and cushioning. It is essentially a spring mechanism that uses compressed nitrogen gas to generate the force needed to lift the chair.

The internal workings of these cylinders involve a lot of heat and pressure. When the lever adjusting the chair’s height is operated, the pressure inside the cylinder changes, generating heat due to friction. Lubrication inside the cylinder reduces friction and prevents the heat from reaching dangerous levels. However, if there’s any fault in this system, it could lead to an explosion.

Notorious Instances of Chair Explosions

In the recent past there have been several high-profile cases of exploding chairs, such as:

  • In 2008 a similar incident saw a 65-year-old man severely wounded by a 150mm steel rod that shot out of his chair.
  • In 2009, a faulty gas cylinder in an office chair resulted in the tragic death of a 14-year-old boy in the Shandong Province of China.
  • And in 2013, an office chair exploded in Fujian, China, severely injuring a 24-year-old woman.

Compromised Quality Assurance with Pneumatic Cylinders

The rise in popularity of gaming and office chairs has led to intense competition based on price. Unfortunately, this has sometimes resulted in manufacturers compromising quality assurance measures. Some manufacturers have resorted to using cheaper air-pressured cylinders instead of the standard nitrogen gas ones, increasing the risk of malfunction and potential explosions.

Nitrogen is a more inert gas, having a more consistent pressure when exposed to higher temperatures, when compare to air (taken from the atmosphere). Air is more susceptible to pressure changes with temperature. Air expands further with friction generated from movement of the pneumatic cylinder, and the risk of over-pressurisation increases!

Chair Cylinder Explosions – Mitigating the Risk

While the risk is minimal compared to the number of people using pneumatic-powered swivel chairs every day, it’s still worth considering some preventive measures:

  1. Know Your Chair: Understand the specifications of the chair before purchase.
  2. Trust Reputable Brands: Don’t skimp on quality for the sake of saving a few bucks.
  3. Handle with Care: Do not jump onto a fully raised chair or throw it around recklessly.
  4. DIY with Caution: Never attempt to tinker with the pneumatic system yourself.
  5. Be Mindful of the Weight Limit: Ensure you do not exceed the maximum weight limit specified by the chairs manufacturer.
  6. Be mindful of increases in temperature – in case you have a cheaper chair, if so…
  7. Replace a cheap chair – think about investing in chair from a reputable manufacturer.

Spotting a Chair at Risk of Exploding

Knowing the signs of a potentially exploding chair can be a lifesaver. If your chair’s fabric is frayed or torn, the frame has cracks, the legs are wobbly, it’s time to get it checked or replaced. All of these observations point to the chair being worn-out and nearing the end of its life.

Should you observe the following, then seriously consider disposing (correctly) of the chair:

  • The gas lift mechanism is leaking
  • There’s an unusual smell emanating from the chair.
  • You notice the Cylinder getting hotter when the chair is used.

The Lifespan of an Office Chair

The lifespan of an office chair depends on its usage and maintenance, a high-quality office chair made from durable materials can last for several years, even with daily use. However, lower-quality chairs might only last a few years before needing to be replaced. There is also the risk that less reputable manufacturers procure inferior components that are mor liable to failure.

Chairs from reputable manufacturers, such as Herman Miller, Steelcase, Humanscale, etc, are known for their long-lasting durability, utilising more safe and robust components.

To Wrap Up…

We hope we’ve not alarmed you, and you are still sat in your as you read this, but while the risk of your office chair exploding is very low, it’s not entirely non-existent! Especially if you have a chair that is a cheap import.

Be mindful of your chair’s condition and don’t hesitate to replace it when necessary, this ergonomic office chair guide might help you find a good replacement. After all, your safety and comfort in your home office should always be a priority.

By understanding the reasons behind these occurrences and adopting preventive measures, you can ensure a safer, comfortable and more assured seating experience.

An interesting video that is available from Youtube discusses these instances, as well as the causes and how big a of a potential risk our chairs may expose us to, it’s worth a watch!

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