What is an Ergonomic Desk?

Carol Francois

An ergonomic desk is a desk designed to allow adjustments to both the height and tilt angle by the user. The height adjustments can be manual or motorized, depending on the sophistication and expense of the desk. Ergonomic desks can also be modular, with the work surface attached to cubical paneling.

Ergonomic desks may feature space for ergonomic accessories, like mouse pads.
Ergonomic desks may feature space for ergonomic accessories, like mouse pads.

Most ergonomic desks are built for use with computers and related equipment. The typical ergonomic desk has a cut-out hole in the work surface itself for the purpose of running computer cables off of the desk surface. Many models provide an articulating keyboard tray, with an optional mouse pad extension or pull out tray.

Ergonomics is the design of equipment to reduce fatigue.
Ergonomics is the design of equipment to reduce fatigue.

Ergonomics is the design of equipment to reduce fatigue and injury. The field has experienced huge growth due to the expansion of computers in the workplace. This change had the unexpected side effect of workplace injuries and physical complaints becoming common for sedentary office jobs.

Working from an ergonomic desk may help reduce back and shoulder strain.
Working from an ergonomic desk may help reduce back and shoulder strain.

Over time, physiological studies were done and the root causes of worker injuries were found to be related to the design of the workstation. When a computer workstation is a standard height table or desk, it is the correct height for a 6 foot (1.83 meters) tall person. The height of the table is not conducive to a natural bend of the elbow in order to access the keyboard for shorter people.

Some computer desks are ergonomically designed.
Some computer desks are ergonomically designed.

Office staff can develop neck, back and shoulder strain, due to the number of hours spent with their arms bent at an unnatural angle to access the keyboard. By offering a recessed keyboard, with a height adjustable table, the location of the keyboard can be adjusted. Studies were done to determine the optimum height for a keyboard which would minimize neck and back strain, and ergonomic desk designs were made available.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the field of office ergonomics gained wide acceptance, and a standard was developed for ergonomic desks,workstations and chairs. Manufacturers adjusted their designs to meet user needs and reduce worker injury. The availability of ergonomic desks has a direct impact on office worker productivity.

Every state in the US has legislated requirements for minimum office equipment, called ergonomic desk standards. The implementation of these standards had widespread support from ergonomic desk manufacturers. They were willing to create products to meet customer needs, but unable at first to support the wide range of options that was being proposed.

To be considered an ergonomic desk, the work surface must be level, with a cut-out for computer wires and cables located in the middle of the desk. The keyboard tray can be built in to the desk, but must be adjustable.

There should be a minimum of three possible height options available. Alternately, the keyboard tray can be secured under the work surface, but must be adjustable for vertical and horizontal adjustments. There must be mouse trays, both left and right handed, located at the same height as the keyboard tray.

Most ergonomic desks are used with an ergonomic chair, with multiple adjustment options for height, angle and arm rest locations. Lumbar and neck support are available on higher-end models.

Sitting at an ergonomic desk may help support and minimize pain in the lower back.
Sitting at an ergonomic desk may help support and minimize pain in the lower back.

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