Many lab tasks such as looking through microscopes, working in exhaust hoods, pipetting, and continuously looking down for bench tasks require repetitive movements and/or awkward posturing. Lack of leg room when sitting at counters or hoods can cause additional leaning and reaching. Although the essential job tasks often cannot change, you can develop personal strategies to improve comfort and health.
Below are some steps you can take to better fit the equipment to your body, improve your comfort and reduce your risk for injury while performing laboratory work. Links to product ideas and additional related information are provided. Product links do not imply endorsement.
Consider a free ergonomic evaluation of your specific environment (Environmental Health & Safety Ergonomic Assessment).
- Take the time to adjust the seat depth and chair back height and tilt in order to maximize individual back support.
- Make sure your feet reach the floor, foot ring or footrest comfortably. The stabilization of both feet makes it easier to sit back in a supported manner. Some lab chairs have adjustable foot rings—consider this feature when buying new chairs. For lower surfaces use office-style footrests. Some footrests have extended height adjustment (Safco Task Master Adjustable Footrest) for use with a counter height chair or stool.
- Be sure lab chairs have adequate height adjustment. Extended cylinder heights may provide additional adjustment that will help lab personnel comfortably reach/perform work at counter height.
- Pull your torso close to the work surface and then sit back. This technique will help avoid ‘perching’ on the edge of the chair. If the chair has a back angle adjustment, move it in to support your back.
- Select benches that include leg room under the surface.
Standing all day for bench work, particularly on concrete/tile flooring, can cause body and muscle fatigue. Recommendations for extended periods of standing include:
- Taking microbreaks (30-60 second break) about every 20-30 minutes to change body positions, rest muscles and increase blood circulation.
- Using an anti-fatigue matting in areas where practical and safe.
- Wearing proper footwear. Using shoe inserts, insoles or orthotics may offer additional support and improve comfort. Remember, like shoes, they need to be replaced before they appear worn out.
- Using a footrest to alternate elevating each foot may be may be helpful in reducing static fatigue.
- Be cognizant of neutral postures while working. Adjust the chair or microscope as needed to maintain an upright head position. Elevate, tilt or move the microscope closer to the edge of the counter to avoid leaning forward, tilting your head up/down or rotating it to the side.
- Avoid leaning on the hard edges on the table - consider padding the front lip of microscope table (AliEdge) or using forearm pads. A simple, versatile solution is a variety of foam pads (Wedge-Ease). Be sure these supports do not cause awkward wrist postures when focusing/adjusting the stage.
- Keep scopes repaired and clean.
- Spread microscope work throughout the day and between several people, if possible.
- Sit or stand close to your work at bench.
- Work at appropriate heights to minimize twisting of the neck and torso. Elevate your chair rather than reaching up to pipette.
- Alternate hands or use both hands to pipette.
- Select a lightweight pipette sized for your hand. Hold the pipette with a relaxed grip and use minimal pressure while pipetting.
- Position work supplies as close as possible in order to avoid awkward leaning/reaching while working. Consider turntables to rotate materials closer to the user. Be sure that only essential materials are in the hood to avoid unnecessary reaching around clutter.
- Consider lower-profile sample holders, solution container, waste receptacles to prevent awkward bending of wrist, neck and shoulders. Reduced repetitive movement also means increased efficiency.
- Wear slightly snug gloves to reduce forces on hands and improve accuracy during fine manipulation. Wearing loose gloves during pipetting and other tasks makes manipulating small materials more forceful and difficult.
- Work with your shoulders relaxed and elbows close to the side of the body. Maintain a neutral wrist or straight wrist position.
- Rotate tasks throughout the work day and among other people, whenever possible. Take frequent microbreaks (30-60 seconds in duration) every 20-30 minutes to stretch, walk, sit and/or change body positions.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods. Alternating between sitting and standing provides relief and recovery time for fatigued muscles.
- Take vision breaks during intensive computer and fine visual work. Approximately, every 20 minutes close the eyes and/or focus on something in the distance.
- University of Oregon, Environmental Health & Safety Ergonomic Assessment
- UC Berkeley
- Lawrence Berkeley