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26 June 2019
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Sit-stand desks

As technology renders us increasingly sedentary, we need to strike a new pose to combat it. Ashley Hayward has the lowdown on ‘sit-stand’ desks.

7 May 2015 | By Ashley Hayward

‘Sit-stand’ and ‘Active Working’ are buzz terms in workplace design, particularly given recent BBC news coverage generated by the ‘On Your Feet Britain’ initiative. It has raised awareness of the health perils risked by the many Brits who spend an average of 8.5 hours a day sitting. 

Inevitably, savvy employers will be asking themselves if they can afford to ignore the problem.

Sitting down all day can cut productivity, increase stress, lead to obesity and cause back pain and RSI. More disturbingly, recent research* tells us that, compared with the shortest time spent sedentary, the longest time spent sitting was associated with a:

  • 112 per cent increase in risk of diabetes;
  • 147 per cent increase in cardiovascular events;
  • 90 per cent increase in death due to cardiovascular events; and
  • 49 per cent increase in death due to any cause.


When you consider that back problems alone cost UK employers more than 15 million workdays in 2013**, sitting down is an expensive problem. The answer is to introduce sit-stand desks to the workplace, as they not only help to get people on their feet for at least part of the day, but also help firms to meet their Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and display screen equipment (DSE) obligations. FMs need to be clued up about the types of sit-stand desks on offer to make sure their choice is cost-effective and safely changes the way people work.

In Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark 80 per cent of office workers use sit-stand desks. But sit-stand working is in its infancy in the UK, with only 2 per cent of similar workers having access to height-adjustable workstations. So what should FMs be asking suppliers?

Producing a safe sit-stand desk is a complex process, not least because the added instability created by extra height has to be factored in at the start of the design process. It is not enough for a manufacturer to add a sit-stand adaptation to a primarily sit-sit or static desk and then use the parent range’s compliance certificates. Whatever you choose, ensure that the sit-stand desk has been thoroughly and independently tested as a complete unit in its own right. 

Sit-stand desks

There are four main categories.

Counterbalanced: Counterbalanced or cantilever sit-stand desks are manually adjusted and have two finely tuned springs with a gas-filled damping mechanism. They draw no power, so there are no transformers to be left on standby and there’s little noise, as there is no electric motor. They are also quick and easy to adjust upwards, but setting them properly relies on accurate prediction of the weight they will need to bear, so they are not ideal for those who might need to use heavy files or books at their desks, or for incapacitated staff who might struggle to apply enough pressure to push them downwards. Given the increasing popularity of energy-efficient electric sit-stand desks, there is now little difference in price between them and counterbalanced options.

Crank handle: Crank mechanism desks tend to be cheaper, chiefly because they are old technology and have been surpassed in popularity and ease of use by electric and counterbalanced options. They share counterbalanced desks’ benefit of not drawing power, but they can be cumbersome to adjust and often only have limited adjustability.

Hybrid: There are several products that allow retrofitting of a standing option to existing desks. They can be budget options, but you can pay the price in compromised ergonomics. As most hybrids tend to be add-ons, they only raise enough workspace to accommodate a laptop, or keyboard and monitor. 

Electric: Electrically adjustable sit-stand desks are popular owing to their one-button ease of use, which means that the entry price has come down significantly. It’s possible to buy purpose-built, low-energy, electric options from as little as £400. The advantages are that many now draw only 0.3 watts of power on standby, with ultra-eco versions as low as 0.1W. 

One of the greatest advantages of electric controls is that they can be adjusted for any height of user and regardless of weight load. In Scandinavia specifications are driven by the typical requirements of public sector tenders, and these in turn are based on recent European anthropometric data, which means they are required to adjust safely up to 1,250 cm. Look out for options with three-part telescopic legs, which have a far greater range of adjustability than two-part legs. They can be adjusted to fulfil the lower range as well as the tallest requirements, but most two-part legs make a sit-stand desk less suitable for short employees. 

Again, make sure your electric desk has been fully tested and holds its own compliance certificates, as the top end of the adjustment range can cause issues with stability. And ask for products with finger-safe mechanisms (as for all sit-stand options), particularly where the desk is part of a benching system. 

* The NHS Choices website features a review conducted by researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Diabetologia in October 2012.

** Office of National Statistics Report: Sickness Absence in the Labour Market, February 2014

Ashley Hayward is UK sales director for Kinnarps