When we talk about health and safety in the laboratory, there is a tendency to concentrate on chemical and biological contaminants, fumes, fire, glassware, sharps and radiation. However, there is another aspect that can negatively affect your lab life: the ‘ergonomics’ of your laboratory space.
- 8 million workers are afflicted by RSI’s per year
- 470,000 workers suffering from a work-related musculoskeletal disorder
- Pipetting is one of the most repetitive tasks in a pathology lab
- Microtomists using manual machines are also vulnerable to RSI
- Incorrect posture can cause strain and discomfort when working and long-term damage
- Slips and trips can be avoided with the right kind of flooring
Did you know that pipetting in the laboratory is one of the most repetitive tasks in the lab? And repetition is, of course, one of the leading causes of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). This debilitating condition leads to pain, numbness, discomfort and burning sensations, usually in the back, shoulder, arm or hand. The condition can do serious damage to tendons, nerves, muscles and other soft body tissues. Interestingly, the problem with pipetting usually occurs as a result of using older, worn pipettes or failing to adopt the proper techniques. Studies have also shown that pipetting for more than 300 hours a year (irrespective of equipment) contributes to an increased risk of hand and shoulder ailments.
To help prevent or aid the effects of RSI, it is particularly important to consider the force that is being applied to make the pipette operate correctly, are you putting your body under any strain? The weight of the pipette can also have an effect as well as the ergonomic design (does it have a finger hook, plunger configuration and tip ejector?). Lastly, ensure that your pipette is being used with a compatible pipette tip for ease of operation.
We offer a wide range of micropipettes that provide features for easy and comfortable use such as adjustable or fixed volumes, digital measurement readings, single or multiple channels of discharge and adjustable tip ejector lengths for various tip positions. We also supply an assortment of sterile and optional filtered pipette tips that are compatible with our micropipettes.
Moving into the histology lab and microtome operators are usually more aware of the risks of RSI than most because their work involves simultaneous, repetitive movements. They often suffer debilitating pain and discomfort as a result of their day-to-day operations. This can cause pain in your wrists, elbows, shoulders and back so it is important for microtomists to take precautions for their wellbeing.
A solution here can be partly ergonomic. Although spurned by many operatives, automated microtomes can really help to alleviate symptoms, because many of the repetitive actions are removed and automated – particularly the movement of the hand wheel. The SLEE fully automatic microtome offers motorised operations that will relieve any strain from fast trimming and allow you to revert back to manual operations to control sectioning, enabling you to take breaks from the extreme repetitive arm movements. The automatic microtome also allows the operative to focus on maintaining a better posture whilst they work, moving less at the base of their back and keeping an upright position.
It is also true to say that not all health and safety issues concern the problems of RSI. Within the lab, you must be aware of the simpler hazards that can still have a serious negative impact on your co-workers and colleagues.
Products such as paraffin wax are extremely slippery and ubiquitous. Histology labs are at risk of injury from slipping on paraffin wax caused by its littering from microtomes and the filling and dispensing of embedding centres. Reducing the potential for the associated slips and trips will help to reduce 441,000 people who had reportedly sustained an injury at work during 20/21.
There are specially designed floor surfaces that minimise the problems with slips and spills, particularly in the histology lab. We recommend the soft, compounded PVC looped Safetread surface mats which trap and contain dirt, wax shavings and debris and moisture. They can be custom-made to fit your unique size specification, covering all the necessary areas within the lab. The unique looped, flexible matting also provides support and cushioning to the feet and lower back when standing which can reduce fatigue.
Lab Set Up
Regardless of the speciality of Pathology you work in, the way your lab is set up can be hindering your well-being or job satisfaction. The Labour Force Survey estimated awkward or tiring positions to be one of the main causes of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, which is why it is important that your lab is set up correctly to meet the needs of your team and colleagues. Challenges people may face are that they may be required to sit or stand during procedures in which the desk or chair may not be set up at the optimate height to work comfortably. Equipment might be easier to reach for some and harder for others causing strain when overreaching and equipment placement might be affecting a smooth workflow. A lab that represents its understanding of diversity and individuality will succeed at ergonomics.
The Ergotec Worktable is a solution to creating a lab that is adaptable to the users. The table provides electronic height adjustability with the ability to save and recall up to 4 different table heights allowing for quick transitions from one user to another, avoiding any time delay and enabling shared working. Its custom-built service allows you to add a cut-out area for a closer and more comfortable positioning when working, especially in microscopy and microtomy, as well as built-in equipment for easy flat-level access to a Water Bath and Cold Plate, to prevent wrist injuries. The ergonomic worktable also offers solutions for keeping your workspace tidy, with built-in electrical ports to avoid any wires on the floor and prevent trip hazards and a built-in drawer to keep work surfaces tidy and clutter-free.
The Ergotec successfully addresses topics that aren’t usually taken into consideration when improving your well-being within work including your eyes. Lighting can play a big part in causing tiredness, loss of concentration, migraines and headaches. The Ergotec’s overhead LED lighting has dual variable controls for the optimally coordinated LUX strengths for both ambient background up-lighting and workstation downlighting.
The Ergosit is another addition that can enforce good posture. The combination of its adjustable height, 3D flex function in the back and flexible front edge of the seat enables you to create the perfect posture for you with the additional support. When sitting on the chair the wheels have a lock feature that ensures you maintain the right posture for long periods of time without your body moving forwards and the chair moving backwards. Its lightweight body also allows for easy transportation around the lab with an easy-to-manoeuvre handle.
How to make the laboratory safer and more comfortable
So, what can you do to minimise the ergonomic risks within the lab? Your suppliers are here to help, speak to them about the problems you are facing, analyse how injuries are being caused and they will be able to advise you on solutions. This can vary from the change of equipment or change of equipment location to adopting new techniques and postures.
The list below are a few suggestions that you can do yourself within the lab:
- Learn how to relax when undertaking repetitive tasks.
- Maintain a good posture when working (whether sitting or standing).
- Having an appropriate chair or stool that gives additional support, adapted to the correct height.
- Use a timer to ensure breaks are taken frequently.
- Minimise clutter around the workstation.
- Reduce the amount of movement between pieces of equipment, put equipment that is used together, near each other.
- Use equipment at the same height level.
- Use the correct lighting that will not cause strain on your eyes.
For more information or to discuss how our equipment is ergonomic friendly and can benefit your lab, contact us and speak to a member of our team who can help and advise, by calling +44 (0) 844 8080 900 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.