BIFMA updates its ergonomics guideline

Changes reflect need to accommodate increasing size of North American workers
Monday, July 8, 2013
By Lucy Hart

The Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) recently revised its 2002 ergonomics guideline. The guideline still primarily addresses the concept of ‘fit,’ which concerns the extent to which furniture and equipment (work chairs, work surfaces, visual display units and input devices) can accommodate users’ needs.

This document guides users in the application of ergonomic principles to the design, manufacture, specification and purchase of furniture used in computer workspaces. Of particular interest to facility managers, architects and designers are the recommendations for chairs and work surfaces. Both should accommodate the 5th (smallest/shortest) to the 95th (largest/tallest) percentile of body dimensions.

Growing out
The 2002 recommendations were based on military anthropometric (body dimension) data, which, at the time, was the most comprehensive database available. However, the most up-to-date anthropometric survey, the Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource (CAESAR), indicates the shape and size of the North American population has changed. In particular, CAESAR data corroborates climbing obesity rates. This is what prompted BIFMA to revise its guideline to make it more reflective of today’s office workforce.

The new guideline
The purpose and scope of the revised guideline, BIFMA G1-2013, has remained unchanged, and so have the intended users – office furniture manufacturers, facility managers, architects, interior designers and other professionals involved in the design, specification and purchase of furniture for computer workspaces.

The majority of changes appear in Sec. 7 (the Work Chair), and Sec. 8 (Work Surfaces), which contain the new recommended dimensions. One of the most notable changes is the increase in seat width, reflecting the increased diversity in body shape and size in today’s population. Adopting the CAESAR data resulted in changes to several other features of the work chair, including seat depth, armrest height and clearance height for legs and knees.

In addition to these dimensional changes, the guideline includes new sections on the positioning of laptops and multiple monitors. Appendices have been added, including percentile tables of the CAESAR data for the various body measurements used in developing the furniture recommendations.

The ultimate test
BIFMA recognizes that users not within the 5th to 95th percentile ranges for any particular body dimension may require products with features that are outside the recommendations in the guideline. For this reason, BIFMA has developed the Ultimate Test for Fit (UTFF). This free downloadable tool contains criteria for determining whether a given furniture feature can accommodate a user without having to take any body measurements. Using the UTFF, an individual can actively participate in finding the right solution for his/her body dimensions. Keep in mind that a furniture component that meets the UTFF is deemed to meet the ergonomics principles in the guideline, even if some features fall outside the dimensional recommendations.

Lucy Hart is a certified ergonomist at The Global Group, chair of the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association’s ergonomics subcommittee and chair of the Canadian Standards Association’s technical committee on standard Z412, Office Ergonomics. She can be reached at

1 thought on “BIFMA updates its ergonomics guideline

  1. Glad to see this update of the standards. 11 years is a long time and a lot can happen. Especially good to see the acknowledgement that we are larger on average than 11 years ago as well. Hope to see some interesting ripples through the market with this.

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