Don’t Overlook Safety When Setting Up Your Sit To Stand Desk

Don’t Overlook Safety When Setting up Your Sit to Stand Desk

I would like to think most office set-ups have been well thought out and the furniture set-up by a well-trained installation team. The home office however is entirely different. I would guess most home workers have set-up their own workspace. Some of us have pets and kids (grown kids too) that interact in our space which makes controlling the space difficult.

There can be hazards in self-constructed static models (I often see tipping and loading hazards in online pictures). Also, anytime you have moving components you could possibly run into a safety issue, either person or material. This goes for electric and manual (have you ever had your fingers smashed in a door?).

Given my experience with motorized components and sit to stand desks I had rated myself entirely capable of setting everything up myself (perhaps that is where I went wrong- being overly confident).

I went over the basics such as avoiding pinch points and clearance from the lowest to highest point. I even trained my kids (well I tried anyway. The desk is apparently too irresistible).

What I missed was side clearance. On both sides of my desk I have doors (see picture). Imagine my surprise when I walked into my office and one side of my desk was pinned underneath the door knob and the other side was almost fully in standing position. My 11 year old son was raising the desk to standing position when the top collided with my door knob. In his confusion he kept running the desk upwards until it stopped.

The picture is what my office setup used to look like. It simply had to be changed to avoid potential obstacles.

With so many different models of desks and types of workstations I can only offer the basics below. The intent is to create awareness of potential issues so that hopefully you can avoid them.


Make sure that nothing could collide with the desk as it moves up and down. This doesn’t just include above and below. This includes things like drawers, doors or chairs that could come in from the side and create an obstacle. Most spaces are dynamic so just keep in mind how things change for the space day to day.

Pinch points:

When moving the desk from the lowest position to the highest position make sure there is plenty of room around the desk. The rule of thumb on this I have always heard is at least 2 inches of space all the way around the desk. BIFMA has a standard for pinch points that might be helpful for you if you have concerns.

Cord length:

If you have something on your desk that is connected to something else by cord/cable (lamp, fan, etc…), you want to make sure that the cord is long enough and has enough slack to go the entire range of travel without incident.

Load/Tipping point:

I have viewed several pictures online of homemade contraptions that convert sitting desks into standing desks (plastic containers holding giant monitors, stools stacked on desks, loads of books and boxes, ironing boards). For product safety and reliability, commercial desks are tested for loading and stability. Issues such as bending moment are examined. Basically, engineers use their extended knowledge to understand and predict how materials and “structures support and resist self-weight and imposed loads.” (Wikipedia)

This may not seem important to you but if you are determined to build your own desk you need to examine these things and maybe even consider anchoring some things to the wall to prevent tipping. This is especially important if you have children. What happens if they climb on the desk? Pull something off the desk?

Turn it off:

Some desks have a lock out where you can somewhat control who can use the desk. I don’t have this feature so when I want to disable my motorized desk I unplug the switch or power cable. I have a software where I can control the desk from my computer so for me it doesn’t matter if my switch stays unplugged. That is how I had to approach the issue with my kids. I simply disabled the movement when I was not at the desk.

I am not sure what you could do about a manual system. I am not sure if they have lock-out features.

Impulse drive movement:

This is when you simply touch a button and the desk moves to another position automatically. This is seen as a cool feature, however it is much safer for a hand to be controlling the movement at all times.

Collision control feature:

Many of the commercial grade brands of motorized components have engineered safety devices into their components such as anti-collision features. What this means is that if the desk collides with an object it will stop running and slightly retract back in the other direction. You would have to check with the furniture manufacturer to see if your model has this feature.

Exposed moving components:

Keep your person and materials clear of any moving components that may have openings. Most of your better motorized components will be fully enclosed (and for good reason!), but I have heard of some that have potential openings. There are several different manual systems that are the same. I have seen them enclosed and also exposed.

Tripping hazard:

If you have engineered your own desk you need to make sure that the base of the desk is not protruding out where it would cause a tripping hazard. This also goes for cord management. Make sure the cords of all equipment on the desk are clear of your foot space.

If you have questions or concerns about safety the best thing to do would be to talk to the group from which you purchased your desk and follow their recommendations. If you have anything to add that will help please feel free to comment.

This article was originally published to LinkedIn.
Written by Ann Hall, Vice President of Workplace Ergonomics and Marketing at Ergo Squad