The trend has been to simplify desk and workstation products but they can still be just as complex as seating products. Unlike an office chair, where the specification choices are likely to add to the features, for a desk or workstation the specification is more likely to be eliminating choices. Even with simplification there are a wide range of products to choose from and variations in terms of size, shape, type of frame, finishes and accessories. Contrary to general perception, human factors (anthropometrics) are as important as they are for chairs and as nearly everybody works with a visual display unit they should be considered to be “users” under the Display Screen Equipment Regulations.
The starting point to any specification is the task analysis. This must be user centric, fitting the workstation and the tools used to the person and task; and not the other way around. Factors that might be considered are: the relative needs for teamwork, privacy and access to other people; the amount that the task involves writing, reading, keyboard operations and telephone use; the corporate ways of working, special features of the task and individual body size and special needs.
From the task analysis you ought to be able to reach general conclusions about the size, shape, layout, positioning and individual storage needs for the workstations; for example: who needs individual offices; how many team areas you need; whether they should face in or out. More information on task analysis can be found in BS3044: 1990 - Ergonomic Principles in the Design and Selection of Office Furniture.
The size of the work surface is dictated by the task and the tools involved. In a call centre, working from an on-screen proforma and using telephone and keyboard, only a relatively small work surface is needed; on the other hand a journalist working with multiple sources of books and paper may need a large area to spread things out. The choice between a CRT monitor and a flat screen makes a big difference to the depth needed. Two important factors are:
The viewing distance to the screen, which for most people is in the range 500-700mm;
The clear space under the worksurface to allow movement for the feet and legs; in the UK the depth should be 600mm and the minimum width 600mm although 1,000mm is preferred.
Since 1987 the accepted height for a fixed height desk has been 720mm but the consensus in Europe is that this is too low for the current population and this should be 740mm. There is a growing recognition that height adjustability is desirable for general use. Whether this is for sitting position only, standing position only or full range sit/stand depends on working practices (shared workstations should have adjustment), task and personal preference, for example many people like to take telephone calls standing up. A range of mechanisms is available, costs are proportional to the speed and ease of adjustment.
The main function of a cable management system is to carry cables safely to equipment. The system should protect cables from physical damage and wear; and remove trip hazards from the vicinity of the workstation. Cable runs should be smooth with no twists or kinks. Power and data cables should be separated and there are limits on the rating and number of equipments that can be connected to sockets. BS6396: 2002 provides details. The key points are the number and types of cables and the number and positions of entry and exit ports.
Screens can perform many functions: optical separation; sound damping; cable management; mounting for storage and accessories. EN1023, in three parts gives the heights for optical separation, safety requirements and test methods. A load bearing screen can provide mounting for a wide variety of accessories and can usefully be used to mount flat screens.
The amount of storage needed depends on the quantity of working documents and policies on central filing. The most popular workstation storage is a free-standing pedestal, which allows a degree of flexibility (left hand/right hand). With overhead storage, consideration should be given to weights of items and the reach of individuals.
The common constructions are: panel end; individual legs; cantilever and beam. The main impact is visual as all can provide the requisite strength and stability. Beams allow flexible modular construction and can be used to provide long runs with no obstructions under the front edge. Depending on the thickness of the top there may need to be an upper frame near the edges of the work top. This needs to be considered in relationship to the clear space underneath as there is little tolerance on the space between the top of the thigh and the underside of the work surface for most sitting workers. MFC is the most usual worktop material, high pressure laminate is a more expensive and harder wearing material. Veneer is generally more expensive but visually cannot be beaten. Strength, stability and durability to EN527 should provide for a more than adequate working life.
Serious consideration must be given to how often it is anticipated that the workplace will be reconfigured. There will be a cost, either staff time or hire of professionals. If this will be rare, flexibility and ease of dismantling is not needed. If it will be frequent, then a much simpler system may be more appropriate. Frequent reconfiguration will also shorten service life.
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