Section 12: Ergonomics

SECTION 12: Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science of designing work areas or equipment for safe, comfortable and effective human use. Certain laboratory related tasks may place lab workers at an increased risk for developing repetitive strain injuries (RSI). Repetitive activities may cause discomfort and, if not properly modified, may lead to pain or reduced dexterity.

Not everyone performing the same job tasks will develop a RSI. Listed below are the most common factors that may increase the risk for a RSI:

  • Awkward Body Postures: Any posture that places a body part out of a neutral position (i.e. twisting, poor posture, bending, over-reaching) may put increased strain on muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints.
  • Exertion: Maintaining a specific body position or exertion for long periods of time may result in pressure or force being placed on the soft tissues.
  • Repetition: Higher numbers of similar body movements over extended time periods may increase the risk of developing a RSI.
  • Contact Pressure: Pressure resulting from leaning against or resting a body part on a sharp edge or hard surface can constrict blood flow.

Laboratory procedures may be repetitive or involve a variety of these risk factors.

Pipetting (top)

Certain laboratory procedures require frequent pipetting for extended periods of time, resulting in repetitive force on the thumbs, hands, forearm, or fingers. Stresses may be reduced by varying pipetting with other lab tasks that use different motions and muscle groups or by taking frequent, small rest breaks. Place receptacles for used pipette tips close to the work area to avoid frequent reaching. If it is an option, replace manually operated pipettes with electronic ones for larger workloads.

Biological Safety Cabinets/Fume Hoods (top)

Working in Biological Safety Cabinets (BSCs) or chemical fume hoods may require lab workers to bend forward frequently or assume awkward body postures. Users should take short breaks to alter their body posture, or to reduce contact pressure caused by leaning on sharp edges or hard surfaces. Keeping the viewing window of hood clean, and line of sight unobstructed, reduces eye strain and the need to assume awkward body positions.

Microscopy (top)

Operating a microscope for long hours may put increased strain on the neck, shoulders, eyes, lower back, arms and wrists. If sitting, use an adjustable chair that provides support to the back and legs. Ensure that your feet are flat on the floor or supported by a footrest. Avoid raising your shoulders and bending your neck for long periods of time while looking through the microscope’s eyepiece. Position the microscope as close as possible to reduce the need to bend forward. Take adequate small breaks, or vary microscopy with other job tasks.

Computer Workstations (top)

The following guidelines are intended to help workers understand and reduce health risks associated with computer workstations:

  • The keyboard and mouse should be directly in front of the operator at a height that favors a neutral posture. The objective is a posture with upper arms relaxed and wrists straight in line with the forearm.
  • The monitor should be positioned at a distance of approximately arm’s length and directly in front of the operator. The top of the screen should be no higher than eye level.
  • A well designed chair will favorably affect posture, circulation, the amount of effort required to maintain good posture, and the amount of strain on the back. An adjustable seat back is best for support of the lumbar region. The user should be able to adjust seat height and seat pan angle from a seated position.
  • Additional accessories may improve operator comfort. Document holders may minimize eye, neck and shoulder strain by positioning the document close to the monitor. A footrest should be used where the feet cannot be placed firmly on the floor. Task lamps should be used to illuminate source documents when room lighting is reduced.

Appendix A: List of Particularly Hazardous Substances
Section 11: Anecdotes