laboratory ergonomics

Ergonomics: How To Make Friends With Your Lab Environment

Proper laboratory ergonomics is often overlooked, but it’s crucial to the longevity of your research career. Ergonomics refers to the study of human efficiency in the working environment. This includes limiting stress on the body because a sore body is a less efficient body. If you have ever had a backache from sitting at the microscope or biosafety cabinet, these tips may be useful for you!

Avoid the Laboratory Posture

It’s unavoidable—you spend a lot of time sitting while doing lab work. Everyone is familiar with the hunched posture of a long-time lab worker. So, you must set yourself up properly when at the biosafety cabinet (BSC), microscope, or anywhere else you’ll spend a lot of time sitting in the lab.

When working at the BSC, set your chair height so that your armpits are at about the same height as the sash opening and you can rest your elbows comfortably on the rests inside hood. Make sure your feet are on the floor and your back is supported against the back of the chair. This positioning prevents you from hunching over in front of the BSC and reduces strain on your back and shoulders.

While at the microscope, much of the same applies, but you need to pay special attention to your neck. Because you spend a lot of the time at the microscope holding your neck at a somewhat awkward angle, your neck bears a lot of the stress. To alleviate this strain, find a support for your forehead above the eye piece to take the pressure off of your neck.

Ever wonder why the armrests on your chair are padded? It’s not just position that’s important—the surface is also important. Avoid resting your arms and elbows on hard surfaces, which further strain on your upper body.

But most importantly, remember to take a deep breath and relax. Though some experiments can be stressful, do your best to not tense up, your body will thank you!

Keep Your Space Clear

How you set up your workspace is important for efficient and healthy lab work. You should never store items where your legs are supposed to go under the BSC. By storing things under there, you prevent yourself from being able to sit properly and force yourself to hinge forward and strain your back.

This same principle applies to your imaging station!

Stay Within Arm’s Reach

In addition to keeping your space clear, you should keep all necessary supplies within close reach. All reagents, disposables, gloves, and other supplies should be placed to where you do not have to bend or twist to reach them. If you are constantly bending and twisting, you risk injuring yourself in the long run. Keeping them close also keeps you from having to get up and leave the BSC, which could generate air currents that could disturb the flow inside the cabinet.

This also hold true for microscopy. Keep your equipment close and don’t contort yourself into weird positions to access what you need. Work smarter not harder!

Use the Proper Equipment

In the laboratory, we are all used to “making do” with equipment and supplies. This is a great attitude for making your own Taq polymerase or reusing spin columns, but risking your health isn’t worth saving a few dollars. If you hurt yourself, you’ll have to take time away to heal and possibly spend the money anyhow to get the proper equipment in the first place. For example, if you have to stand for long periods of time, then an anti-fatigue mat is vital. Also, manufacturers make laboratory ergonomic laboratory equipment, such as ergonomic pipettes.

Many of these tips and tricks can be applied to just about anything you do in lab that requires to you to sit for long periods of time. So, what do you think? Is your work space ergo-friendly?

Read more to learn about RSI thumb, and proper pipetting techniques.

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