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.  But there is another aspect that can negatively affect your lab life: that of the ‘ergonometry’ of your laboratory space.

  • 6 million days lost in 2017/2018 due to RSI
  • Pipetting is one of the most repetitive tasks in the lab
  • Micrometists are also vulnerable; automated microtomes can help
  • Slips and trips can also be avoided with the right kind of flooring
  • Speak to your lab equipment and consumables supplier for more information

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 Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that 2.6 million working days were lost in 2017/18 due to RSI – with an average of 14 days lost per case.  The condition can do serious damage to tendons, nerves, muscles and other soft body tissues and 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.

There are some tips to help laboratory staff, including learning how to relax when undertaking repetitive tasks; maintaining good posture (whether sitting or standing); having an appropriate chair or stool, adapted to the correct height; using a timer to ensure breaks are taken frequently and minimising clutter around the work station.

However, the choice of pipettes is also key.  It is particularly important to consider the force needed to make it operate correctly.  The weight is also a key factor, as well as the ergonomic design (does it have a finger hook, plunger configuration and tip ejector?).  And your pipette should always use a compatible pipette tip.

Moving into the histology lab and microtome operators are usually more than 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 work.

The solutions here are partly ergonomic.  Although spurned by many operatives, automated microtomes can really help to alleviate symptoms, because many of the repetitive actions are removed – particularly the movement of the hand wheel.  The automatic microtome also allows the operative to maintain a better posture as they work, moving less at the base of the back and maintaining an upright position.

It is also true to say that not all health and safety issues concern the problems of RSI.  We also need to be aware of the simpler hazards that can still have a serious negative impact on our co-workers and colleagues.

Paraffin wax is slippery.  It is also ubiquitous: littering microtomes, and, when warm, sometimes running off benches onto floors and other surfaces.  Reducing the potential for the associated slips and trips will help to reduce the 9,000 serious injuries caused to people at work in 2017/18.

There are now specially designed floor surfaces that that minimise the problems with slips and spills, particularly in the histology lab.  Suppliers now recommend soft, compounded PVC looped surface mats which trap and contain dirt, debris and moisture.  Cleaning is easy, as a simple shake can release the trapped debris.  Plus, they have non-trip edges.

So, how can you make sure that your lab is minimising the ergonomic risks?  If you have a trusted supplier of equipment and consumables, speak to them about the products they have that will help your lab.  Developments are taking place all the time, and ultimately, the welfare of all laboratory workers is vital to the efficient working of your laboratory.

In this, and many other ways, your supplier can help you to run the most efficient lab.