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A 3-Zone Workstation Model to Create Ergonomic Neutrality

Working in neutral is a basic ergonomic principle. This means making sure the body remains under minimal stress for the task at hand. Keeping it aligned and balanced is key while at a desk or workstation. The principle of neutrality applies for any task that requires a horizontal worksurface. Examples are typing on a keyboard, assembling electronic modules, or performing lab measurements and experiments.

Employing a “3-Zone” (three-stage work zone) ergonomic model maintains proper range of motion for hands and arms when performing different tasks at the workstation. Each work zone is defined by the extent of bodily motion required to perform a specific action.

WORK ZONE 1 (Primary): 

Recurrent tasks and frequently used tools should be positioned within the “reach envelope” of the forearms. That’s the Primary Work zone shown in green in Figure 1. This means only the forearm (right hand arm in Figure 1) to perform the task. This is where a keyboard and mouse should be placed when using a desktop or laptop computer. If the task is assembling or testing an electronics or small mechanical module, the tools and parts used most frequently should be in the “green zone.” Typically, it’s simply rearranging the work area to move materials and tools already on the work surface into the Primary Work zone.

Organize a workstation into three work zones for correct ergonomicsWORK ZONE 2 (Secondary): 

The Secondary work zone (shown in yellow in Figure 1) is for materials and tools used less frequently. Here, everything can be reached within the envelope defined by an outstretched arm (the left arm in Figure 1). Another example of the Secondary work zone is an electronics test lab, where instrumentation is located within arm’s reach.

Figure 2: Zoned Workstation

Workstations equipped with parts bins (shown in the secondary work zone of Figure 3) are another good way to properly equip the secondary work zone.

A computer keyboard and mouse used only occasionally may be placed in the Secondary work zone.  Articulating arms for keyboards and monitors (available from Workplace Modular Systems) are an ideal solution for the secondary zone because they keep monitors, keyboards, and parts out of the way but within arm’s reach. Since they are easily adjustable they also quickly accommodate the reach of different users.

WORK ZONE 3 (Reference): 

The reference work zone (shown in red in Figure 1) requires additional bodily movement, such as standing up if seated. Infrequently used items such as reference manuals or drawings can be stored here. In Figure 2 above, modules used for particular types of testing are located on shelves in the Reference Zone, which require the worker to stand and reach. Workplace’s wide assortment of fixed and adjustable shelving (as shown in Figure 3) is ideal for organizing documentation or the worker’s personal items.

Example workstation organized into three work zones.

Workplace’s extensive array of workstations and accessories include parts bins, adjustable shelving, and articulating arms that make it easy to organize the workstation layout using ergonomic principles for the task at hand. At the same time, every Workplace accessory has the flexibility to be rearranged quickly and easily for different—but still ergonomically neutral— jobs.

(updated 8/12/22)