Office Workstations and Back, Arm Pain

Industry or Company

Office Ergonomics


Ergonomic Assessment


In an office-relocation project, employees were reporting back and arm pain associated with the design of a new workstation. Assessment of the workstation resulted in a simple modification that prevented ongoing employee concerns.


A large utility had recently relocated into a new facility. Primarily feedback by the employees identified a number of concerns with the office workstation layout. Individuals could not access file drawers, reporting hitting their arms on the side surface – repetitively reaching was associated with working on files located on the desk (leading to lower back and arm concerns). The objective of the assessment was to determine whether a modification sufficiently minimized, or eliminated, the concerns identified by employees in the original design. The goal was to utilize the new work station, but ensure that health concerns were addressed.


The following steps were completed to meet the objectives. First, a task analysis was conducted to determine task requirements, tools, and equipment. The next step required observation and evaluation of the original design to fully understand employee concerns. To evaluate the potential prototype, a three-dimensional (3D) model was constructed to analyze the design of the prototype against a range of body sizes in the population. The final step involved user trials with a number of employees at the prototype workstation to ensure concerns were identified and addressed prior to full-modification of 100 work stations.


The prototype and 3D modelling allowed refinement of a proposed solution. Concern existed that all work stations would need to be replaced, but an option was identified and tested. The cost of the retrofit was $150/workstation as opposed to the complete removal of the workstation. Risk was significantly reduced with the retrofit and also allowed for the organization to move quickly on the modification in order to minimize downtown associated with the modification and total replacement.


All workstations have been modified. Existing hardware, including the keyboard tray. could be salvaged and utilized in the design modification. Additional suggestions were incorporated so that a greater range of the population could be accommodated with the modification.