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Laboratory Ergonomics: The Science of Safety

Tuesday, September 08, 2009
By Anne Kramer

The scientific laboratory is a truly unique work space, where highly specialized equipment like microscopes, biosafety cabinets, and pipettes create unusual ergonomic challenges. Because this equipment often requires the user to stand and to repeat the same motion multiple times, ergonomics are especially important in the laboratory. With these five ergonomic tools, every laboratory can be safer and more productive.

  1. If possible, incorporate elevated seating like a bank teller’s chair, which can be raised to accommodate a higher lab table. Seating allows switching postures, from sitting to standing. This alternation removes constant pressure from the feet, ankles, and knees from constant standing and decreases fatigue in the back and shoulders. A built-in footrest saves space and prevents circulation loss in the legs while users are seated.
  2. For extra relief while standing, an anti-fatigue mat cushions the joints. Anti-fatigue mats can also provide extra traction in the event of spills. Available in multiple sizes, with non-abrasive, anti-static surfaces, anti-fatigue mats are an easy ergonomic intervention for the laboratory. If flooring must be sterile, Ergo Mates provide the same support, in the form of anti-fatigue shoes, which strap on over the wearer’s regular footwear.
  3. Incorporate adjustable work surfaces, which can be raised or lowered to fit each user. While different functions may require different heights, the work surface can be placed in a neutral position for an individual user. Alternatively, different stations can be arranged to accommodate different equipment. For instance, a microscope table might be lower than a pipette workstation, so that users need not lean over the microscope.
  4. The hard edges of work tables can cause pain and cut off circulation to the forearms and hands. Edge protectors can be fitted to the edge of virtually any hard work surface, providing protection and padding for users who may lean their wrists on the table edge while working. These edge protectors function like wrist rests in front of a computer keyboard, shielding users from strain and injury.
  5. For workers who frequently use microscopes, forearm supports are an indispensable tool. Available in many sizes, they can also be stacked to optimal height for any task. Forearm supports not only reduce contact stress, but they also eliminate awkward postures of the wrists and elbows that contribute to repetitive stress injuries (RSI). Because they take up little space, forearm supports are ideal for the laboratory, where work space is often quite limited.

The laboratory presents specific ergonomic challenges, particularly the prevalence of standing work stations and hard surfaces. Ergonomic interventions like elevated chairs, anti-fatigue mats, adjustable work surfaces, edge protectors, and forearm supports provide the added support and comfort necessary for a safe and productive laboratory work space.

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