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Getting the Height Right: Top Tips for an Ergonomic Work Surface

Sunday, June 13, 2010
By Anne Kramer

Work surface height can make a tremendous difference in a workstation’s comfort—and in the user’s productivity. Customizing the work surface for each employee means fewer injuries and greater efficiency. To maximize effectiveness, it is important to address height, distance, and other factors that contribute to workstation usability.

Proper Height

Proper work surface height encourages proper posture, preventing back pain, muscle strain, and unnecessary reaching or leaning. The best height for a workstation will vary some from person to person, so use these guidelines to determine the proper height:
  • The elbows should be able to remain at a 90-100 degree angle when the user types on the keyboard. The user should also be able to keep the wrists straight.
  • Optimum height generally ranges from 23 to 28 inches. If multiple workers will share the workstation, the best compromise is around 26 inches.
  • To comply with ADA regulations, the workstation should be adjustable to 27 inches high.
  • For standing workstations, ensure that the workstation height still enables workers to maintain proper elbow angle. Shorter employees may need a footrest, while taller ones may need desk risers.
If the height of the workstation itself isn’t adjustable, pair it with an ergonomic chair and footrest. Sometimes the same work surface is used by workers who both sit and stand. In that case, a desktop scissor lift provides the perfect solution. Workers can easily alternate postures, to attain maximum ergonomic benefit.

Leg Room

The knees and feet should fit under the desk comfortably, without CPU’s furniture supports, or other items presenting any obstacles. A roomy desk ensures that employees have the freedom to change positions and exit the desk easily:
  • Knee space should be at least 30 inches wide and adjustable to 27 inches tall, to meet ADA guidelines.
  • Minimum depth is 19 inches, to ensure that the worker has adequate space to pull all the way up to the workstation.
  • Ensure that drawers are located with enough clearance that they do not pose a hazard to workers’ knees or upper legs.
  • Even when the keyboard tray or drawer is in its lowest position, it should still not contact the user’s legs.
  • An overly thick work surface can encroach on leg space. The ideal thickness is approximately one inch.
In addition to leg room, the space on the desk top itself is also important. Typically a traditional desk size of 30 by 60 inches provides the greatest usability. Ideally, the desk surface offers enough space for other tasks like writing or collating papers, in addition to providing ample space for the computer and other work necessities.

The impact of proper work surface height is significant. Employees experience fewer injuries like back strain and leg pain. They can also maximize their efficiency. Providing adjustable work surfaces for employees not only reduces the burden of workplace injury, but also increases productivity.




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