The Downside and Hazards of Desk Converters

Posted by Alison Heller-Ono on November 17, 2021

desk converter blog

In recent years, the desk converter has become very popular. If you aren't familiar with the pros and cons of these devices, then read on. A desk converter is an external device added to an existing desk to allow sit-to-stand postural changes. A desk converter is placed directly on the surface or mounted to the surface. A variety of desk converter designs are available offering alternative placement of single, dual and or laptop monitor placement. 

Keyboard and mouse platforms are included and when sitting, rest approximately one inch above the desk or several inches below the work surface. When alternating to a standing position they raise in synchronous with the monitor/s. Desk converters are typically operated with manual, pneumatic, or electric controls.

Desk Converters are More Popular Than Ever but at What Price?

Desk converters are a relatively new invention in the ergonomics marketplace over the last 10 years. They are designed to allow the end-user to keep their fixed desk, while still be able to raise the unit to stand at their workstation, without modifying the original desk.

They are becoming more and more popular than ever before. Employers are buying these devices in droves. I am seeing these desktop platforms being deployed to every workstation in many organizations under the guise of providing postural variation for worker well-being. But in doing the right thing for employees, are employers creating more problems?

Over and over, I see the same problem with these desk converters, particularly those that rest on the desktop. They significantly impact the sitting ergonomics of most people and fail to create a safe work environment!

In the eyes and experience of this ergonomist, these devices can be hazardous to your employees’ health, safety, and well-being. So, I am calling it out here and now in the hopes of preventing injuries in your workplace!

Before you buy one for yourself, or your facilities and purchasing teams buy 500 units for your organization, be warned! Understand the hazards and risks they bring to the table!


Is a Desk Converter a Danger to Employee Health?

The desk converter that rests on the desktop is not designed with ergonomics in mind for most people who sit at a 29”H standard worksurface. When placed on the average 29”H work surface, the desk converter keyboard platform puts the keyboard and mouse at about 30”H to 30.5”H at the lowest position and the monitor typically 5” -6" above the work surface. If the fixed height desk is 30”, then the desk converter will be even higher by at least an inch.

Ideally, for good workstation ergonomics, the employee should be able to sit with their feet firmly on the floor, back to the chair back, arms close to the trunk at a right angle with wrists straight. The keyboard and mouse should then be placed at or below seated neutral elbow height.

Given the seated neutral elbow height of a 5’ female (5th percentile) is 22”H, and a 5’8 female (95th percentile) as 29”H, then the desk converter on the 29”desk will not fit 95% of women. For men, it is slightly better, as it will fit likely 25% of men in sitting.

Desk converters will however fit almost 90% of men and most women in standing.


The Novelty of Standing Wears Off

The problem however is that even when deployed, people will only lift them to stand about one to two times a day and that is likely to diminish over time.

So, herein is another problem. For the other 6-7 hours of the day, all employees are sitting awkwardly to reach their keyboard and mouse on the keyboard platform on the desk. The chairs provided don’t go high enough and if they do, the elevated height leaves people sitting with dangling legs (without a footrest)!

The shorter the stature of the individual the worse it is!

Although they were designed to assist with posture, posture change, stamina, and overall health, there are several reasons why this item isn't necessarily the best solution. Many find that it worsens certain conditions rather than helps them feel better.

 

Heavy and Hard to Lift, Especially for Women

An average desk converter weighs anywhere from 28.7 lbs. to as much as 61.9 lbs. There are a lot of parts and factors that contribute to the weight, such as the number of tiers it has, what material it is made from, and how thick the different levels are.

When purchasing a desk converter, there are many reasons why you need to consider not just weight but overall size or footprint. In addition to the weight, these devices often span most people’s fingertip to fingertip distance when trying to grasp and manually lift. This creates a significant challenge to most women. Lifting the desk converter with one or two monitors, all the other devices from waist to chest or shoulder height is a real challenge for most women and some men as they physically don’t have the strength to lift to the desired height, especially multiple times per day.

Furthermore, many times an employer provides the desk converter as an accommodation for someone with a back injury. Yet, these are bulky, heavy and awkward to lift. The suggestion to utilize two people to lift a desk converter to prevent injury makes sense, but is most unlikely when someone is ready to stand at work. 

 

Limited Surface Space

An average desk is 60” wide and most converters will take up approximately 40” of that space.

Not only will the surface area you are working on be reduced and feel more cramped, but the depth will also be impacted. Having to try and place your everyday items on your desk may lead to you leaning and bending awkwardly to reach them when seated, and even worse in standing, thus creating additional posture issues.

 

Forget about Multi-tasking with Your Desk Converter

Desk converters are placed on top of your desk. As they vary in size, the amount of space on your desk as well as on your converter is reduced. If you have a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, space is already limited and gives the worker a feeling of clutter and disorganization, creating more chaos.

In addition, working with your notes, reports, and other necessary documents on the side of your desk will create additional neck and back pains from the way you will be forced to strain to view these documents.

 

The Tipping Point

Another hazard when desk converter units are elevated, the converter is often seen extending beyond the front edge. This forces end-users to stand further away from their desks making many tools outside the essential near reach or arms reach zone.

When desk converters extend beyond the front edge it creates a lack of stability creating a tipping risk. Another common issue users find with rear-mounted converters is that they bounce when typing compared with other styles like scissor-lift or front clamp mount units which provide stability throughout different heights.

 

The Bottom Line on Desk Converters

Desk converters that sit on the desktop are not all they're cracked up to be. Even though they were designed to help with posture, positional changes, and improve employee health, most of them are too heavy, placed at the incorrect height, not spacious enough, too difficult to lift, resulting in the opposite of the desired effect.

The sad truth is that there's no perfect desk converter for everyone because every person’s stature and strength is different, which means more research is needed to fit your individual requirements.

As an employer, if you are interested in investing in the sit-to-stand desk revolution, do your research before you invest in one or more desk converter units, before you learn they don’t fit most of your workforce. Don't rule out the best solution of an electric sit to stand desk either, which is the most cost effective and universal solution overall. 

There are many other ways to encourage postural change and interruption. Be sure your workforce is ready to make these behavioral changes before you buy!

Worksite International is here to guide you through the sit-to-stand process by listening carefully about what it is exactly that you struggle with so we can find just the right option together. Grab a copy of our Sit to Stand Guidelines before you buy and set up a consultation with us to explore further.

What's your experience with desk converters? Do you use one? Do you prescribe them? Let us know your thoughts. 

 

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