Adjustable-Height and Sit-Stand Workstations

Sedentary lifestyles have been associated with adverse health outcomes including obesity, systemic disorders, cardiovascular diseases and some cancers. Sedentary work includes work involving prolonged sitting and standing. As a result, UNSW advocates a dynamic working environment and encourages staff to:

  • Walk more at work:
    • Avoid sending emails if the recipient is near - walk over and talk to them instead
    • Have walking meetings
    • Use stairs instead of elevators
    • Take a long route to the bathroom or photocopier
    • Park your car further away from your building
  • Set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every 30 minutes and use this time to do other work activities. See Rest Breaks for further information.
  • Stand up when using the phone

Workstations that are fully adjustable in height enable users to easily alternate between work in sitting and standing, which may be useful for some individuals with certain musculoskeletal conditions. The user should ensure that they build up their standing tolerance and change position frequently as prolonged standing can also be hazardous.

Sit-stand desk accessories (e.g. Varidesks; Ergotrons, Standesks) are designed to be used with an existing desk. They may sit directly on, or are attached to an existing desk and provide a cost-efficient mechanism for alternating between sitting and standing. They are useful with workstations that are pre-configured with adjoining partitions but only permit a small section of the workstation to be used in standing. They can also introduce new ergonomic hazards as they increase the height of a standard desk when used in sitting. This may mean that the individual is unable to raise their chair to the appropriate height which can introduce additional body stressing risks. In addition, a footrest may be required to support feet and maintain an appropriate hip position. Sit-stand desk accessories may also adversely impact on UNSW’s sustainability objectives, so UNSW has adopted a cautious approach to their use.   

Fully height-adjustable desks allow everything on the desk to move up and down for use by the user in sitting or standing, and can be adjusted for use by multiple people of various heights. They should have a minimum of 100kg safe working load (which includes the weight of the desk top surface) and ideally be motor-operated with plug into the wall (not a battery pack which can be more prone to failure) or employ a hydraulic mechanism to enable ease of adjustment. Prices range from around $1000 for a single straight desk to $2000+ for a corner work station.

Options include:

Request and Purchase Considerations


  • Requests for purchase of equipment should be made through the normal business unit purchasing channels and approved by the relevant management delegate

Is the request justified?

  • What is the reason for the request, is there appropriate evidence to support this and is this the most appropriate solution?
  • Managers should refer to the Reasonable Adjustment and/or Workers Compensation information, and may contact the relevant central H&S team member for further advice
  • Need versus want: how will equity of staff access be managed? Options to address this include creating a pod of non-dedicated hot desks for access by all staff.
  • Are principles of responsible financial stewardship being applied?

When selecting an adjustable or sit-stand workstation:

  • Consider the most appropriate type
    • Full-adjustable-height workstation or sit-stand desk accessory:
      • consider functional task requirements and any musculoskeletal restrictions
      • Height of the individual (shorter and very tall individuals may be better suited to use of a fully height-adjustable workstation)
      • Need for all or just some items on the desk to be accessed in standing
    • Adjustment mechanism: electric and hydraulic mechanisms are easier to use; manual wind-up mechanisms take longer and involve more energy and force; some desk foot mechanisms can only be adjusted with assistance from Estate Management
  • Check the equipment and office/ workstation dimensions prior to purchase to ensure compatibility with the existing office and work station fittings. Overhead shelving may obstruct monitor(s) when used at the appropriate height in a standing position and may need to be removed.
  • Ensure that the safe working load for the unit’s support mechanism is sufficient for the equipment to be used on it in addition to the weight of the desk top surface
  • It is recommended that potential purchasers of sit-stand desks contact the supplier to provide adviceon suitability of a proposed desk, and if practicable, conduct a visit to recommend a particular option
  • Individuals will still need a chair for sitting

Setting up your sit-to-stand workstation

Users should aim for the same monitor and keyboard set-up when moving between sitting and standing. That is, elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when hands are on the keyboard, monitor should be about an arm’s length away from the user and eyes should be level with the top of the monitor or top of the text being viewed.