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Knowledge Base » Health and Safety » Using a Standing Desk Correctly

Using a Standing Desk Correctly

Last updated on 27th March 2023

The use of display screen equipment (DSE) can result in various health implications, particularly when workers are sitting down at their workstations for many hours on a daily basis. Employers have a legal duty under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 to protect their workers from health risks when they are working with DSE. This also includes the provision and set up of workstations, and desks are an important part of this assembly.

An alternative to traditional desks are standing desks. These are not a new concept, and have been used for centuries; even Sir Winston Churchill was purported to have used a standing workstation. Recently, they have become a popular addition to the workplace. This is probably due to research highlighting that standing desks can bring about many health benefits to workers. If workers are happy, healthy and comfortable, this can also benefit employers through increased productivity and morale.

This article will look at the importance of following DSE and how sitting for extended periods can result in health implications for desk-based workers. It will look at the benefits of standing desks and how to use them correctly.

The importance of following DSE

Many workers, particularly those who work in office-based environments, can sit at their desks for long periods during their working day. Research conducted by the office equipment specialists Fellowes found that 81% of office workers in the UK spend between four to nine hours a day sitting at their desks. This equated to an average of 67 sedentary days every year. Sitting down at a desk may appear to be a relatively benign low-risk activity, but is it?

Being sedentary for long periods can result in serious health implications. According to the British Heart Foundation (BHF), those who sit for extended periods have been found to suffer from higher rates of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death from all causes. Research has also shown that being sedentary can also result in poor mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, workers who are desk-based for most of their working day are at a higher risk of developing chronic health issues. It doesn’t matter if workers exercise outside of work either. According to Nuffield Health, the effects of being sedentary for the majority of the day cannot be reversed by exercise.

Standing desks have been introduced into workplaces to try and combat the time workers spend sitting down. As desks are part of a workstation assembly, they must be considered when looking at the risks associated with the use of display screen equipment (DSE).

The use of DSE can create a risk to a worker’s health if it is improperly used, if the workstation is poorly designed and if the working environment is uncomfortable. DSE users have been known to suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, fatigue, eye discomfort and psychological issues. The Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) research report (RR561) survey found that DSE users suffered from many different problems, such as:

  • Headaches (52%).
  • Eye discomfort (58%).
  • Neck pain (47%).
  • Back pain (37%).
  • Shoulder pain (39%).

If standing desks are not ergonomically designed and properly set up, this could also result in health implications for workers. Employers have a legal duty to reduce and control these health risks.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 requires employers to:

  • Complete an assessment of a user’s workstation (a DSE assessment).
  • Ensure that precautions are in place to reduce the risks to health.
  • Provide training, instruction and information to make a user aware of the hazards and the correct workstation set-up.
  • Arrange for eye tests where a user requests one and provide glasses where a need is identified.

Why not test your knowledge of DSE by taking our quiz, which can be found on our website. If you struggled with the quiz, perhaps enrol on our DSE Awareness Online Course and boost your knowledge.

Office workers working at desks after completing DSE assessment

What are standing desks?

Standing desks are different from traditional desks, as they allow workers to stand whilst they use their DSE and workstation. There are many different types of standing desks.

Some commonly used types are:

  • Fixed-height standing desks – these cannot be adjusted, but are available in different heights to suit the user.
  • Sit-stand desks – these can be adjusted manually to allow the user to alternate between sitting and standing positions.
  • Electronic standing desks – these are the same as sit-stand desks, but can be adjusted electronically by the user.

Some standing desks even incorporate treadmills to enable workers to walk whilst they work. Whichever type of standing desk is used, the aim should be to allow workers to alternate between sitting and standing positions so that they can change their posture and maximise their comfort whilst they work.

Did you know? – For every hour of sitting, a person should then stand for 20 minutes.

Benefits of standing desks

You can now probably appreciate that sitting down at a desk for many hours every day is unhealthy. Research has shown that the introduction of standing desks can bring many benefits, such as:

  • Lowering the risk of obesity and weight gain – standing burns more calories than sitting. It may be a small number of calories, but this can make a difference to a person’s weight in the long term. One particularly study found that workers who stood at a standing desk for the afternoon burned 174 calories more than sitting workers.
  • Lowering the risk of heart disease – those who are more active are at a lower risk of heart disease compared with those who are sedentary (NHS). Standing and moving about instead of sitting has been proven to be beneficial for heart health.
  • Lowering blood sugar levels – research has shown that standing after a meal can lower blood sugar levels, which can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes UK suggests standing or walking to reduce the risks.
  • Reducing back pain – sitting down in a chair for long periods can result in poor posture, and many DSE users who use traditional desks often complain of back pain. Studies have shown that using a standing desk can reduce this. One particular study found that using sit-stand desks reduced workers’ upper back and neck pain by 54%.
  • Improving mood and energy gain – being sedentary for long periods can increase the risk of depression and anxiety. The study conducted by the CDC has shown that using standing desks can boost workers’ mood and energy levels.
  • Improving productivity – standing can increase workers’ alertness and concentration. Therefore, there are benefits to employers as it can improve productivity. A 12-month study, which involved NHS workers found that those with adjustable desks reported better job performance, reduced sickness at work, less anxiety and improved quality of life.

Of course, the benefits will depend on the individual and other influential factors, such as what they do outside of work and their lifestyle. It is also always best to err on the side of caution when looking at scientific studies, as it looks at a small sample of people. The important point is that sitting down for long periods is known to be bad for our health.

If standing desks are set up incorrectly, or if workers stand in a static position for extended periods in the day, this could also result in health issues. If standing desks are introduced, workers must know how to use them correctly and how to adopt a good posture. They must also be encouraged to take regular breaks away from their desks.

We are all individual, and standing desks may be unsuitable for some workers due to existing medical issues and disabilities. Therefore, employers must always consider the individual when looking at providing such equipment in the workplace.

Checkout our standing desk infographic below.

[ucaddon_uc_sexy_flat_buttons text=”Standing Desk Infographic” link=”” uc_init_settings=”” uc_fonts_data=”JTdCJTdE”]

How should I stand at a standing desk?

A standing desk should be designed and set up with ergonomics in mind, i.e. it should fit the individual who is using it, and must be suitable for the DSE and the environment it will be used in. These factors should be considered when a DSE assessor is assessing your standing workstation and DSE with you.

The important thing is to introduce standing gradually into your daily working routine. Going from sitting to standing all day is likely to cause discomfort and pain. It may also result in longer-term health issues, so a balance is important. There is no consensus on how long you should stand when using a standing desk. Posturite recommends spending at least two hours standing over the working day and increasing the time according to your needs. They suggest for every one hour sitting there should be 20 minutes standing.

Standing correctly at a standing desk

When using a standing desk, you must stand correctly and have a good posture to gain the benefits. Individual circumstances should be taken into account, but the following can be used as a guide:

  • The desk should be at the height of your elbows. If it is an adjustable desk, it may have to be adjusted first.
  • Wear comfortable supportive shoes.
  • Stand with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart with your weight evenly balanced between your feet. You can use a footrest on the floor to alternate your stance if required.
  • Your body should be in a neutral upright position and in line with the DSE. It is important not to slouch.
  • Your knees should be slightly bent, but not locked.
  • Keep your neck tall and your shoulders in a relaxed neutral position. Your shoulders should be in line with your hips.
  • Your wrists should be straight and parallel with the surface of the desk. Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees.
Woman using standing desk at correct height to look after her well being

Arranging DSE on a standing desk

The DSE must be correctly set up on the standing desk, as it will be different from when you are using it in the sitting position.

The standing desk height must also be correct for the worker, and additional equipment may also be necessary, such as anti-fatigue matting or footstools.

Here are some standing desk tips for DSE:

The keyboard

  • Your keyboard and computer screen should be separate. When using a laptop, a docking station and separate keyboard should be used.
  • When you have your arms loose at your sides, the keyboard should be slightly below the level of your elbows.
  • Your keyboard should be in a position that is in front of you.
  • The ‘H’ key on the keyboard should be in line with the centre of your body.

The mouse

  • Use a mouse mat if you find your mouse’s movements to be slippery or stiff.
  • Use a mouse that you find comfortable, which is of a suitable size so that it fits your hand.
  • Ensure that the mouse is close to the keyboard and on the same level on the desk.

The monitor

  • Your monitor should be set at a height that is at the same level as your eye line.
  • Your eyes should be approximately a couple of inches below the level of the top of the monitor.
  • Your monitor should be directly in front of you and in the centre of the platform it is situated upon.
  • Your monitor should be approximately at an arm’s length away from you when you are standing at your desk.
  • Ensure that your monitor is tilted back slightly at an angle of approximately 10-20 degrees.

If you are using a sit-stand desk, it is important to ensure that the DSE and workstation are correctly set up when adjusting the desk from the standing to the sitting position (and vice versa). It may take a bit of time to ensure that the workstation is ergonomically sound, but it is worth it so that you are gaining the maximum benefit from your standing desk. If it isn’t, it may cause health implications for you later on.

Woman working in room using standing desk and anti-fatigue mat for feet

Stretches to do whilst working

DSE users may start to feel uncomfortable when they are in a static position for a period of time. It is vital that regular breaks are taken, at least every hour, regardless of whether a person is in a standing or sitting position. Regular movements and stretching throughout the working day can be beneficial.

Stretching can:

  • Increase flexibility.
  • Improve posture.
  • Release tension in the muscles.
  • Improve circulation.
  • Relieve stress levels.
  • Increase energy levels.

There are many different stretching exercises workers can do whilst using a standing desk. However, they must always check with a doctor to ensure that the exercises are suitable for them. No stretches should be pushed to the point of discomfort or pain. Some examples of standing desk stretches include (this should not be taken as medical advice):

Hamstring stretch

  • If the standing desk has a stool, place your leg on top.
  • If you have poor balance, stand to the side of the desk and place one hand on top.
  • Grab your toes with both hands.
  • Lean forward at the hips.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
  • Repeat for two sets.

Quad stretch

  • To balance, hold your desk with one hand.
  • Lift your leg, bend it and grab your foot or ankle with your other hand.
  • Pull your foot towards your rear.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
  • Repeat for two sets.

Back stretch

  • Stand approximately two feet from the desk.
  • Bring your feet together.
  • Put your hands on the top of the desk. Your arms should be extended.
  • Bend forwards at your hips and lower your upper body between your arms.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for two sets.

Chest stretch

  • Stand away from your desk with your back facing it.
  • Bring your hands behind your body and place them on the desk behind you.
  • Stand tall and elevate your chest.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for two sets.

Core stretch

  • Face your desk.
  • Place one hand on the desk and leave it there.
  • Turn your body away from your hand by going the opposite way.
  • Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat for two sets.

Bupa and the NHS also have some examples of stretches that can be done whilst seated. Some of these can also be performed when using standing desks.

Woman stretching at desk to prevent workplace injury from using DSE

How should I sit whilst working?

One of the main reasons why workers suffer from health problems when sitting down at a desk is poor posture. Being seated is, in fact, an unnatural posture for us humans, particularly when sitting down in a chair for many hours.

Standing is a more natural position. However, standing in a static position for extended periods may also result in health problems, such as sore feet, swollen legs, varicose veins and back pain. It is, therefore, important to get a balance by alternating periods of sitting and standing. It is also vital that when you sit at a desk to work, you are doing so correctly.

Here are some tips:

Head and shoulders

  • Your monitor should be in front of you so that your head is facing forwards.
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed.
  • Your eyes should be level with the top of the monitor.


  • Your back should be supported.
  • There should be contact between your back and the back of the seat.
  • Your chair should be adjustable and it should support your lower back (lumbar region). You may need additional lumbar support.
  • Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips.
Workers sitting in office using ergonomic chairs

Arms and elbows

  • Your arms should be relaxed and your mouse kept close.
  • Your elbows should be bent at 90 degrees.
  • Your elbows should be close to your body and at right angles to the desk.

Legs and feet

  • Your feet should be flat on the floor or on a footrest if you cannot reach.
  • Your legs and feet should be facing forwards and uncrossed.
  • There should be a gap between the backs of your knees and the front of your seat.

Regular breaks

  • Whether sitting or standing, you should ensure that you take regular breaks away from your desk.
  • Moving and stretching during the working day will help improve your health and wellbeing.

There are many factors to consider to ensure that the DSE is set up correctly. The HSE’s DSE workstation checklist can be used to aid users and DSE assessors in setting up and risk assessing a traditional and a standing workstation the checklist can be used to help with the risk assessment.

Our infographic on how to sit at a desk can be used as a poster for your workplace and is useful as a prompt.

Checkout our standing desk infographic below.

[ucaddon_uc_sexy_flat_buttons text=”Standing Desk Infographic” link=”” uc_init_settings=”” uc_fonts_data=”JTdCJTdE”]


Research suggests that sitting down for many hours every day increases the risk of developing chronic health issues. The use of standing desks in the workplace has been shown to improve workers’ health and wellbeing. It can also increase productivity, which also benefits employers. However, sitting or standing for long periods can result in health implications. Therefore, workers need to alternate their working position throughout the day and should take regular breaks from their DSE and workstation.

The Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992 will apply to users of DSE, which includes their desks as part of the workstation. Whatever type of desk is used, it must be ergonomically designed with the user in mind, i.e. it must fit the individual, the equipment and the environment. Employers must legally protect DSE users from the health risks associated with DSE, which also includes the use of standing desks.

If an employer has provided you with a standing desk, they must ensure that it is properly assessed and give you information, instruction and training on its use. You also have responsibilities as a worker in reducing the risks associated with DSE. You must cooperate with your employer and use your standing desk correctly. You must also ensure that you take regular breaks away from your desk, which should include movements and stretches. If there are any issues with your DSE, or if you experience any pain or discomfort, you should inform your employer as soon as possible.

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About the author

Michelle Putter

Michelle Putter

Michelle graduated with an MSc in wildlife biology and conservation in 2012, but her career has taken quite a different turn to the one expected. She started in health and safety in 2009 and has worked in several industries such as electrical engineering, aviation and manufacturing. She has been working with CPD Online College since 2018 and became NEBOSH Diploma qualified in 2020. In her spare time, Michelle's passions are wildlife and her garden. She has volunteered for many conservation organisations and particularly enjoys biological recording. Michelle also likes hiking, jogging and cycling.

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