More and more people are getting behind the trend of standing desks.
Given what we know about the long-term impacts of sitting for hours and days on end, it should come as no surprise.
But if you shop around for a standing desk, then sooner or later you are going to come across an acronym: ANSI/BIFMA.
You will generally find this acronym in some of the literature provided by office furniture manufacturers.
Those who sell products to government, large enterprises, or educational institutions are most likely to use that acronym.
What Is ANSI/BIFMA?
The acronym itself refers to a standards-setting, a not-for-profit body called the Business + Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA).
They operate under the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which also happens to be a not-for-profit organization.
When it comes to buying the best-quality office furniture on the market, you will find that they meet those ANSI/BIFMA standards.
Contrary to popular belief, neither of them is a government agency.
That said, ANSI says that it is comprised of “academic and international bodies, companies, organizations, government agencies, and individuals” that represent 270,000 companies and organizations as well as 30 million professionals.
They have an operating budget of around $36M, which they spread to different sub-organizations (such as BIFMA).
On the other side of that equation is BIFMA. They include key funding sources and members of the largest office furniture manufacturers in the United States.
They work in the hottest area of the contract furniture industry. The “contract” term refers to business furniture that is designed and tested to be durable and to meet the standards of quality that are associated with ANSI/BIFMA.
To give this a little context, the entire industry of office furniture sells around $46 billion every year. Of that, 40% (roughly $18 billion) comes from the contract office furniture industry.
These include things such as sit-stand and fixed-height desks, chairs and cubicle partition panels, and filing cabinets, each of which has been given the ANSI/BIFMA certified tag.
That remaining 60% of office furniture is what you would find through major online and retail outlets.
These include places like Amazon, IKEA, and a litany of other companies. When you buy from them, you are not necessarily getting any kind of assurance about the durability of the product.
There are rare exceptions, of course, but most of the sellers don’t bother having any of their products tested through independent laboratories to meet those BIFMA durability standards.
That’s because they don’t need to get those certifications since most of their buyers have likely never heard of the acronym before and also have lower expectations when it comes to the durability of that furniture.
There are also exceptions when it comes to some of the different standing desk models out there available through online or retail outlets.
They accrue the expenses of BIFMA testing since more and more government agencies, educational institutions, and corporations are buying much of their furniture through e-commerce.
Being able to meet those quality standards is becoming a prerequisite.
The Things That BIFMA Does and Does Not Require in Standing Desk Testing
BIFMA produces a standards document relating to sit-stand workstations.
They clarify that they test for “load ease, lock mechanism, top loading, out stop, extendible element or roll-out shelf cycle, racking, rebound, horizontal and vertical adjustment, leg strength, cycle testing for receding doors, stability, unit drop, and drop test for receding door.”
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According to BIFMA, they specify acceptance levels to ensure reasonable performance and safety that is independent of the manufacturing process, aesthetic designs, mechanical designs, or construction materials.
BIFMA uses an independent testing lab to perform its tests on sit-stand desks. That includes a custom lab experiment to cycle the product, in most cases thousands of times.
They do this over a period ranging from a week to three weeks depending on the duty cycle of the motors.
There are actuators and robotic sensors that simulate a customer making the desk go up and down repeatedly, trying to make it tip over, and making it shake back and forth.
The lab test is meant to torture the desk to try to make it fail. The weaker of the products out there will be rubble by the time all of the testings is done and they may not even make it to the end of the testing.
To be labeled as certified to a certain standard, the product in question has to pass every single one of the tests that are defined in that single standard. There are no partial certifications to be had.
Should there be electrical components on that particular desk, then BIFMA requires that they be tested to the standards of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), too.
There is the “shake and bake” testing, a classic that is meant to see if a product explodes catches fire, exudes toxic fumes, or would otherwise harm the user.
And that is just part of the cost that comes with one of the most robust certification processes.
How ANSI/BIFMA Testing Relates to Treadmill Desks
Now the question becomes, “what about treadmill desks?” Despite their popularity and use in large enterprises, there are currently no standards in place from BIFMA for treadmill desks.
This is partly because the better-quality treadmill desks already conform to a robust set of standards for system performance, material, and electrical safety according to the UL testing requirements.
They are also through requirements that include nothing about the specifics of the desk, but the treadmill alone.
Keep in mind that the government requires no testing from UL, though most retailers will avoid any untested products. Institutional buyers will also avoid products that haven’t been UL tested to current standards.
UL, as with ANSI/BIFMA, isn’t mandated by the government.
The incentive on the part of the manufacturer to pay those fees of UL testing comes from customers that won’t buy products without that testing and, should the product be subject to a fire or liability lawsuit, they might be subject to treble damages should there be no UL testing.
The Problems with ANSI/BIFMA Standards for Standing Desks
While their reputation is a great one, there are some concerns, namely the issue when it comes to height range targets. There are a few things worth considering.
For starters, the recommended max height of 46.5” isn’t sufficient for those who are taller. Reaching the keyboard while keeping their hands in a position that is considered ergonomically proper while working.
This tends to be true with under-desk keyboard trays as well. There is also the matter of typing on a treadmill desk or standing desk.
It requires a much steeper forearm angle than it would while sitting, which means that there is a greater need for work surface height.
A lot of the standalone standing desks out there are marketed as ANSI/BIFMA, but that is a misleading claim. The only way that a base can be tested properly is if it has a specific desktop on it.
The testing lab will always request samples of both the largest and smallest desktops to be sold in a desk system and it will automatically certify any of the sizes. The problem is that there isn’t a standard test in place for testing the base as a standalone.
There have been numerous instances of different desk vendors stating that they are ANSI/BIFMA compliant but they haven’t had their products tested.
But the problem is that neither ANSI, BIFMA nor the Federal Trade Commission has any real force to go around and keep a constant monitor over the marketing of these claims.
If you add the base of a treadmill step-up to the height of a treadmill desk user, then there is no telling.
The tallest desks that are ANSI/BIFMA compliant are meant to accommodate someone who is 6’2” without the treadmill but might only actually work for people up to 5’8”. That is far off from the 90th percentile of the population.
The testing from ANSI/BIFMA is rigorous. That said, the certification that is awarded is only on a pass/fail basis. This means that the lab test won’t reveal the durability or stability of a desk model or how it compares with others.
That is why more testing can be required at other labs. If BIFMA certifications would include the numerical results from each of their tests, then it would save a lot of time and effort on the part of manufacturers.
This could include things such as the frequency and magnitude of oscillations when sideways forces on a standing desk are tested, and so on.
Finding independent reviews that give points to desks that exceed those ANSI/BIFMA ergonomic adjustment range recommendations is crucial.
For height, the minimum in the industry is roughly 48”, which is fine. There are desks that can reach 50” or even 55” depending on where you look.
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Which Standing Desks are ANSI/BIFMA Certified?
So, if you want to know which brands out the ones are meeting those rigorous testing standards, and you don’t want to pay a ton by going through a multi-tiered contract furniture vendor, then there are only three viable standing desk options, all factory direct.
These are the iMovR Lander and Lander Lite, as well as the UpLiftDesk’s V2 Commercial option.
Whenever you buy a standing desk, make sure to check out the various individual reviews. Get into the nitty-gritty of the details.
That said, there can be a glaring difference between some of the top-end products out there. Keep in mind that getting state-of-the-art, quality standing desks can also cost major dollars.
But when it all comes down to it, these options have been tested and are certified by ANSI/BIFMA. This ensures that you are getting some of the highest-quality standing desks on the market, though there are some noted caveats.
There are some commercial desks built on a reinforced, Chinese-made desks. You can check manufacturer websites to find some of the requisite information about that product but some of it can be conflicting at best.
There is sometimes confusion when it relates to BIFMA’s G1 Ergonomic Guidelines. They don’t necessarily match up with the standard testing on the desk.
The G1 has recommendations as to the ergonomics of the desk. It covers everything from sitting desks to height-adjustable chairs to just about everything in between.
Standing desks would have a recommended minimum and maximum height that is supposed to accommodate the 90th percentile of the entire US population, though that is according to a 2010 census survey.
That said, most institutional furniture buyers don’t think much of the “G1 compliance” when it comes to being a guideline document.
They think that there are significant deficiencies when it comes to their standing desk category.
There is a working committee that is working to rewrite the standard according to more modern census numbers. The goal is to bring it to a current standard for standing desk bases, especially when it comes to standing desk bases.
The Final Word
Some purchasing agents consider ANSI/BIFMA compliance to be nothing more than a check-off item that is minimally required for buying desks for their specific organization.
That said, it’s more of a starting point rather than a conclusion.
Whenever buying lab-tested standing or treadmill desks, make sure that you check out the reviews.
If you can, invest in your testing to determine whether taller people or treadmill desk users will be able to use these products at their suggested height.
There are more than a few instances of standing desks and treadmill desks that can cause stability or ergonomic issues as a result.
The compliance standards out there can feel as if they are the end-all, be-all. But they are much closer to a guideline than anything else.
Doing independent research and looking over reviews of that product is the most reliable method of determining quality.