Return to workstation and equipment guide

The following guidelines must be taken into consideration in the design of a work area.

Work stations, including screen-based equipment, have the potential to cause or aggravate Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS) if they are not designed correctly.

Furniture location

In order to determine the best location for furniture in an office it is necessary to specify the tasks which are carried out in the office and analyse the usual flow of traffic which is associated with those tasks.

In this context 'traffic' refers to both foot traffic in the area and to the movements associated with performing those tasks at individual workstations - for instance, clerical work, word processing, typing, answering the telephone or responding to people presenting themselves at a counter.

Consideration should also be given to reflections and glare from work surfaces or Visual Display Units (VDUs), including computer screens. Wherever possible furniture should be arranged in order to eliminate reflections and avoid contrast of illuminance on screens. Screens should be located such that the face of the screen is at 90° to the window (see antiglare section).

Equipment layout

The optimum location of equipment on the work surface is determined by the tasks performed, their frequency and duration, equipment used, space allowances and acceptable reach limits.

Reach across a desk (horizontally)

Reach limits are described as different work zones consisting of primary, secondary and tertiary or reference zones.

Primary Work Zone – this is generally the distance from your elbow to your hand, moving in in an arc left to right.  This is the frequently used zone where items are most handled within easy reach.

Secondary Work Zone – this is within arm’s reach without overstretching or lunging forwards, moving in an arc left to right.  This area is for less frequently used items within the arm’s reach.

Tertiary or Reference Zone – this is greater than arm’s reach and often requires reaching out.  Items should not be placed in this zone if they are to be used from the position.  It is often better to get up and move to locate yourself closer to the item rather than overstretch.

Reach (vertically)

When reaching, this should not occur over shoulder height, as this could cause strain injury.  Loads in terms of lifting or carrying should be handled closer to the body and not with an outstretched arm(s).

In order to reach objects located beyond maximum reach, the worker should stand and move to a position within easy reach of the object rather than overstretch.


Space per person

While there is not specific regulation guiding space per person, consideration must be given to the following factors when designing and providing a work area:


  1. The type of work area the work will be conducted in (i.e. workshop, office, laboratory). 
    • What will the area be used for?  What tasks will be performed?
    • Is there enough room for the worker, tools, equipment, workstations and furniture?
  2. The physical actions required of the worker to perform tasks by providing enough space to perform them (i.e. lifting, bending, sitting, standing, reaching, repetitive actions)
  3. The worker’s ability to move to perform the task (i.e. consider height of the worker, health issues). 
    • Are there any requirements that need consideration to modify the design before procurement?
  4. Consider other ergonomic factors which could impact upon performing the work safely, such as the temperature for thermal comfort, lighting to see the work and designs considering social aspects where workers do not feel isolated.
  5. Is the space and work area fit for the intended purpose?  Can the work be performed without being a contortionist?


Aisles and clearances

Specific requirements in the legislation have been replaced by a general duty to provide work areas and thoroughfares for normal movement about the workplace, including aisles and clearances, which do not pose a risk to health and safety.  For example, space behind chairs and desks for workers to perform their work, especially if an aisle or passage is immediately behind them.  This avoids people tripping over chair castors and also workers being pushed into their desks.  A passage or other space used for emergency egress must be kept free of any obstruction that could hinder or prevent the safe egress of a person in an emergency. If work must occur in the passage or space, the space provided must allow for safe egress.