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Working in a Sitting Position - Basic Requirements

What are the basic requirements for sitting comfort?

The basic requirements are to have a workstation and job tasks designed to allow a person to remain in a balanced position or neutral posture, regardless of the work being done.


A workstation should allow the worker to sit in a balanced body position.

  • Use a workstation that ensures that the alignment of the spine is the same whether the worker sits or stands.
  • Use a workstation that allows the worker to move the spine freely.
  • Use a workstation that can be adjusted to the needs of the worker.

Job design

A job design should allow the worker to work in a variety of balanced positions.

  • Design tasks so they require movement of the spine and encourage the worker to alternate positions frequently.
  • Avoid an excessive range of movement by:
    • providing all materials at working level
    • positioning tasks within easy reach
    • avoiding lifting and transferring loads while sitting.
  • Avoid static positions.
  • Position visual tasks that maintain the vertical alignment of the head and spine
  • Design the lighting system to:
    • provide good general lighting.
    • provide task lighting where necessary.
    • avoid glare.

What is meant by a neutral posture or balanced position?

Gravity constantly exerts a downward force on our bodies. Parts of your body in contact with a supporting structure (the seat of chairs, armrests, floors, etc.) will feel pressure from the structure to balance this force. Parts of our bodies that are not in contact with a supporting structure will use muscles, tendons, and ligaments to balance the force of gravity with an upward force of their own.

The body position that has the highest strength to handle the pressure felt by the supporting structure, while causing the least amount of strain on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments, is called the neutral or balanced body position.

The following recommendations outline how to maintain a neutral body position while sitting:

  • Hands, wrists, and forearms are straight, in-line and roughly parallel to the floor.
  • Head is level or bent slightly forward, forward facing, and balanced. Generally it is in-line with the torso.
  • Erect or upright spine.
  • Shoulders are relaxed and upper arms hang normally at the side of the body.
  • Elbows stay close to the body and are bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
  • Feet are fully supported by the floor, or a footrest may be used if the desk height is not adjustable.
  • Back is fully supported with appropriate lumbar support when sitting vertical or leaning back slightly.
  • Thighs and hips are supported by a well-padded seat and generally parallel to the floor.
  • Knees are about the same height as the hips with the feet slightly forward.
  • No twisting of the upper torso.
  • The in-line sight is between the horizontal and 350 below the horizontal.

Note: No one seating position can remain comfortable over a long period of time. For this reason, multiple positions in which the body can be in the neutral position are recommended. As mentioned above, the workstation should allow the worker to adjust and move between these positions. The first diagram below outlines the most common position used to design workstations for individuals. The second figure provides guidance on alternative seating positions that also allow the body to be positioned in a neutral position.

(Figures below have been taken from the Canadian Standards Association, CSA Z412.00)

Figure 1 - Design reference posture for sitting
Figure 1
Design reference posture for sitting
Figure 2 - Dynamic sitting posture
Figure 2
Dynamic sitting posture

How should manual tasks be designed?

Seated manual tasks should be designed to maintain vertical alignment of the spine, and avoid constant stress on the shoulder region. This can be done by:

  • providing materials at or slightly below elbow height
  • Providing arm rests where appropriate
  • providing tool balancers and avoid heavy hand tools
  • avoiding tasks that require the shoulder or arms to be excessively high (keep below 15 cm above the surface of the work surface)
  • avoiding tasks that require excessive reach -- The example below provides some general reach guidelines. (Adapted from CSA412-00). Note: this guideline should be used with caution as the posture of each individual should be observed to ensure the body maintains its neutral position during the cycle of work.
Figure 3 (Metrick) - General guidelines for work reaches
Figure 3 (Metric)
General guidelines for work reaches

What should be considered when a foot task is necessary?

  • Position foot tasks so that they can be done without twisting hips.
  • Design foot tasks to avoid movement and exertion by only one leg.
  • Provide the appropriate support for both working and non-working leg.
  • Design a sitting task that encourages the worker to alternate positions frequently.

Document last updated on December 16, 2009

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Although every effort is made to ensure the accuracy, currency and completeness of the information, CCOHS does not guarantee, warrant, represent or undertake that the information provided is correct, accurate or current. CCOHS is not liable for any loss, claim, or demand arising directly or indirectly from any use or reliance upon the information.