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Published on 23rd October, 2015
by Ergonomics Department

Fixed height desks and ergonomics

The ergonomics principle used in determining the height of fixed height desking is to allow the largest users in the intended user group sit at the desk without the top of their thighs hitting the underside of the desk. In other words, fixed height desks are designed for the tall people and the majority of people would need height adjustable chair and shorter users would also need a footrest. This is in order to be able to sit at the desk with thighs nearly horizontal, lower legs nearly vertical and feet flat on the floor whilst upper arm is vertical and lower arm is horizontal with elbows just above the top surface of the desk. This is called the "Reference Posture" and is only used to check whether the furniture matches the size of people. It is a static posture and it is not recommended or optimum posture.

By using the anthropometric tables (Adult data published by DTI) for the British adults the following desk heights are determined for different percentiles.

percentile.png#asset:327715:regular

This would mean that a 720mm high fixed height desk can accommodate around 90% of the UK population and that the tallest (about10%) could find that they can not get their legs under the desk without tops of their thighs hitting the underside of the desk. Height adjustable chairs are required for all and shorter users would also require a footrest. Similarly a 750mm high fixed height desk can accommodate around 97.5% of the UK population and that the tallest (about 2.5%) could find that they can not get their legs under the desk without tops of their thighs hitting the underside of the desk. Height adjustable chairs are required for all and shorter users would also require a footrest.

The best ergonomics practice is to provide height adjustable desks so that everyone can adjust their desk to suit them without the need for a footrest. So the next best practice or compromise is to provide the users with fixed height desks, height adjustable chairs and footrests for those whose feet cannot touch the floor when they adopt the above mentioned reference posture.

So most general offices where there is no specific concentration of very short or very tall people, 720mm desk height is deemed to be appropriate. However, if there is a concentration of tall people, certainly the desks which are 750mm high would be more appropriate.

From ergonomics point of view shorter people would not be more disadvantaged using 750mm high desks than they would be if they were using 720mm high desks, provided that they are using height adjustable chairs and appropriate height footrests. This is because they would require footrests for both desks. In all cases a detailed ergonomics risk assessment should be carried out under the 1992 Display Screen Equipment Regulations.

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