Ergonomics Simplified

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Administrative Assistants & Secretaries

On the long to-do list of administrative assistants taking care of proper ergonomics often falls to the bottom of the list, if on the list at all. More often than not the choice of equipment and arrangement of their work area is determined more by whatever room is available and a tight budget. I think that would change if employers understood how much more productive, happier, and less injured these employees would be with a few simple adjustments. How often have you walked into your office, another business, or even your doctor's waiting room to find the person behind the counter wearing a wrist brace of some sort? People in administrative assistant type jobs are at high risk for developing repetitive strain injuries. By following the recommendations below and setting up your desk with the Free Ergonomic Evaluation you can minimize the risks you face. Try to identify which tasks cause you discomfort.

An assistant's job typically involves many tasks, from answering the phone and typing countless hours a day to running errands and moving quickly from one demanding task to the next. The numerous different tasks can be a blessing or a curse. It is good if they force you to change your position and get up to do different things, giving your body a break. Try to spread out tasks like going to the printer or copier, running errands, and talking with co-workers throughout the day. This will give your body the breaks it needs while keeping you productive.

Administrative Assistant/Secretary

Lifting and replacing the phone dozens of times a day takes a toll on your neck and shoulder. Add to that the strain on these same muscles while you hold the phone between your shoulder and ear and you are setting yourself up for a neck injury. A headset can take the strain off your body and free your hands to take notes or type. A wireless headset allows you to get up and move around the office while taking calls. Using the speaker phone can help but may be a problem if privacy is a concern. Standing for phone calls is a good way to give your back a break from long bouts of sitting.


Your hand, especially the base of the thumb, can take a beating from handwriting. Try to use larger barrel pens with rubber handles. Gel roller or felt tip pens also require less force than ball points. There are also ergonomic pens such as the PenAgain and the EZ Grip Res-Q pen. A slanted surface such as an ErgoDesk or even an empty 3-ring binder can make papers easier to write on and cause less bending of the neck.

Other common causes of hand pain come from stapling and removing staples. Instead of the common teeth-like staple remover use an ergonomic staple remover you can slide along and will gently remove the staple. If stapling is the problem consider an electric stapler.

Given the multitude of tasks required of assistants it is amazing how often their work area is cramped and poorly designed. Make use of the numerous organizers available, whether for the desk, under the monitor, or in your drawers to keep yourself organized and maximize desk space. A monitor arm lets you position the screen where you would like it and free up desk space.

The hand me down chair from the person before you or the executive down the hall that recently left may or may not fit you. Take time to adjust your chair to fit you. This is especially important when different people use the same desk on different days. If it does not fit properly see if you can get a better fitting chair. Our secretary chair is designed exactly for this type of job or use our chair selector for a chair even more customized to your condition. If not make sure you adjust it as well as possible and use a lumbar cushion or footrest to compensate where needed. If you are on carpet a plastic chair mat can make moving around easier.

Adjustable height keyboard tray

The computer is often tucked back into the corner to free up desk space at the expense of your neck and eye health. An adjustable height keyboard tray will let you get the keyboard and mouse down at their ideal height to unload your shoulders while keeping the desk at a taller height for proper writing. Looking back and forth from papers on your desk to the monitor can be a literal pain in the neck. A document holder will help this.

Keep notebooks, your phone, calculator, coffee mug, or anything else you use close so you don't have to crane your neck to reach it. Overstretching results in injury.

Radiant heat panel

Working in a cold office increases muscle tension and encourages poor working posture as you huddle trying to stay warm. Both of these increase your risk for injury. Keep a sweater at work you can easily put on and remove as needed. A heated footrest or radiant heat panel under your desk can also be helpful.

As more companies downsize assistants often end up doing work for more than one supervisor. This adds to the stress created by deadline driven work. It is important to take time to care for yourself and relieve stress. Make sure you regularly engage in a hobby you enjoy. Exercise often. Going for a walk at lunch is a good way to get fresh air, increase your circulation, and take your mind off work so you can return re-energized. Take frequent breaks to look away from your computer and stretch. While you may not be able to control your boss or get the ideal work set up there are a lot of these things you can control. And at the end of the day it is your health that depends on it.

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