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Maximum Reach Zones - Desk Ergonomics Explained

Updated: May 6

A man sitting at a desk reaching for the phone

Reach zones are the areas around an employee’s work station that are within reach without overexerting the body or putting it into unnatural positions.


In this Article:


What Are Reach Zones for?


Reach zones are the areas around an employee’s work station that are within reach without overexerting the body or putting it into unnatural positions. If an employee performs regular tasks while at a workstation, the reach zone needs to be prioritised to ensure the employee can reach all the necessary equipment without stretching too much.

The reach zones are the natural range of motion for each employee and it highlights the maximum reach zone for the body in that particular environment. The work environment must be comfortable for workers and if they are constantly extending past the maximum reach zone, this can also result in employee injuries.

There are 3 reach zones which will vary for each employee depending on the different workstations, the size and height of the person and the work area.

diagram of the 3 reach zones

The 3 Reach Zones


The reach zones can be applied both vertically and horizontally and are split into three zones to help employees know their individual limits at various workstations.

Neutral Zone (Primary)

The neutral zone is the area around the workstation that is easily reached with a bent elbow. This is the zone in which the employees are most comfortable and can easily reach certain areas that covers the regularly used tools and equipment without any exertion.

When employees stay within the neutral zone this also increases productivity and reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injuries. Employees within the neutral zone are able to work safely and faster with increased efficiency with the ability to stay in this position for longer.

Maximum Reach Zone (Secondary)

The maximum reach zone is the area which can be reached when the arm is extended. This is where items are placed if they are not required at a high frequency everyday but are still within reach when they are needed.

If items are placed in this area which are regularly used every day, it may be advised to move these items to the neutral zone to avoid any unnecessary injuries from overexertion or repetitiveness that can occur over a long period.

Extended Reach Zone (Tertiary)

This area can be reached when the arm is fully extended or from bending down at the waist. The items in zone 3 require more effort to reach as employees often have to completely shift position and therefore should only be rarely used and not be required every day.

This can be an uncomfortable position for employees and if it is a repetitive action, it can cause shoulder, neck or back injuries. This is the last zone and the items are most likely to be put into storage as they are not used regularly.


All areas that are outside of these 3 zones are completely out of reach for employees at their workstation and trying to reach them will pose certain risks and may cause serious injuries. Employees often have to stand up from their position to reach these areas.



The reach zones regulations are put into place to ensure all employees are comfortable and safe at work and do not regularly need to over exert themselves to reach items when sat at a desk or in a standing position.

  • Zone 1 - the natural range of the reach zone is up to 14” horizontally and 6” vertically.

  • Zone 2 - the reach zone ranges from 15” to 19” horizontally and 6” to 12” vertically.

  • Zone 3 - the reach zone ranges from 19” to 25” horizontally and above 12” vertically.

These distances are a guide and will vary for each employee depending on their height, size and the type of workstation.

These regulations should be considered when looking at reach zones as moving any form of weight can be considered as a manual handling task. For example collecting packages repeatedly whilst reaching over a desk could cause back issues over time, therefore this could be considered a risk.

MHOR also states that individual requirements should be taken into consideration so it would be advised that pregnant or elderly people have a higher risk of injury from repeated overreaching.

Although this example may seem trivial it is important to consider injury as a possible outcome, especially if you are a manager or employer responsible for others wellbeing at work.


How to Reduce Reach Zones at Work


To help provide employees with a comfortable working environment, reach zones can be reduced by moving the items used at the highest frequency closer to you. For example, if you work in an office at a desk, the most common items that are used such as stationery, keyboard and mouse should be placed within zone 1 to avoid over exertion.

An appropriate ergonomics method is essential to help reduce the reaching and therefore also reduce the injuries caused from overexertion. Important factors such as the chair and table height can be adjusted to optimise the space and positions of reach zones and the items within.


Responsibility of Employers


The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provide a range of legislations including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure that employers always provide a safe place of work and ensure that everyone is fully trained and competent.

In regards to reach zones, the responsibility of employers is that they must be committed to providing suitable reach zones which are fully assessed for each individual to ensure the environment is ideal and prevent over exertion during everyday tasks.

Employers are also responsible in ensuring risk assessments are carried out to identify and manage any hazards found to reduce risk of injury or accidents. Employers must also make sure employees receive the appropriate training for their job which in turn makes the work place much safer.



a person working at an ergonomic desk

Desk Ergonomics

Ergonomics is defined as the study of employee’s efficiency and productivity in a working environment. The workstation desk must be comfortable and suitable for performing daily tasks and take into account the reach zones to ensure employees are safe and won’t overexert themselves. To optimise the workstation, adjustable furniture should be used.

  • Computer monitor should be an arm’s length away

  • Eye level should be at the top of the computer screen or up to 2 inches below

  • Elbows should be bent at 90 degrees

  • Use an adjustable chair that offers lumbar support to sit straight

  • Knees should be level with the hips or slightly lower

  • Feet should be flat on the ground

  • As well as having a good desk set up at a workstation, there are various exercises employees can perform every 20 minutes to reduce strain and fatigue.

  • Perform simple stretching exercises such as on the wrists and back

  • Drink water

  • Refresh your position and correct posture

  • Stand up



Reach Zone Training


Reach zones are an essential part of the workstation and employers must ensure employees receive appropriate reach zone training. The training provides workers with the necessary knowledge and ability to identify risks and learn how to assess and reduce the risk and provide beneficial improvements to the reach zones.

Reach zone training is required to assess employees’ workstations and ensure employees are always comfortable and not at risk from over stretching due to items and equipment placed out of reach beyond the maximum reach zone.



What Does MHOR Define as a Load?


The Manual Handling Operations Regulation 1992 (MHOR) defines the load as “a moveable object, such as a box or package, a person or an animal, or something being pushed or pulled, such as a roll cage or pallet truck.”

The manual handling of the load includes “transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force. It includes lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, moving or carrying a load.”


a man rubbing his eye suffering with eye strain

Eye Strain


Strong desk ergonomics state that the monitor should be placed in a position that doesn’t require bending or craning the neck to avoid eye strain and fatigue. The eye level should be at the top of the display screen or up to 2 inches below and an arm’s length away. A good solution is an adjustable laptop stand or monitor arm to be placed at the most suitable height for different employees.

Good lighting is also essential to avoid eye strain. Natural light is extremely beneficial in the workplace as not only does it boost employees’ moods and energy, access to a window also gives the eyes some relief from staring at a computer screen all day.


Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Maximum Reach Zone at a Desk?

When working at a desk the maximum reach zone ranges from 19” and 25” depending on the height of the employee.


What is the purpose of the Maximum Reach Zone?

The maximum reach zone is the furthest point a person can reach without causing over exertion or a strain on the body. It avoids injuries by informing employees of the maximum distance they can reach.


What is the Power Zone?

This is the area in which the arms and back are able to lift the most with the least amount of effort. It is close to the body at a height between mid chest and mid thigh. Risks are increased when items are placed outside of this power zone.




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