Laboratory Ergonomics

Researchers and laboratory workers are exposed to similar ergonomic risk factors to those who utilise computers for extended periods.

Laboratory risk factors include:

  • Awkward and sustained postures
  • High repetition
  • Excessive force

Microscope, Pipetting and Cryostat/Microtome Work

Utilising a microscope, pipetting and performing cryostat/microtome work for extended periods can result in muscle strain in the neck, lower back, eyes, arms and wrists. To minimise the muscle strain:

  • maintain an appropriate posture by ensuring that, as far as practicable:
    • the bench height enables work to be performed in a neutral work posture with relaxed shoulders
    • if the task must be performed in sitting:
      • there is adequate clearance under the desk surface to allow for the operator to sit close to the equipment without restriction (if not, consider whether the task is best performed in standing)
      • a height adjustable chair with adequate back support is used
  • feet are flat on the floor or supported by footrest
  • elbows remain close to the body, with elbows at right angles
  • a neutral neck, shoulder and wrist position is maintained when using microscopes, cryostats and other laboratory equipment
  • the microscope is positioned close to the work surface edge, which will assist the operator in assuming and maintaining an upright posture
  • the viewing height and angle is adjusted for the operator
  • materials (vials, samples, instruments etc.) are positioned within the user’s arc of access to avoid unnecessary reaching or twisting 
  • limit work periods in non-neutral postures and rotate between tasks where possible to avoid sustained or repetitive postures and take regular stretch / pause breaks (for further information, see HS705 Guide to your Computer Workstation
  • consider using alternative mechanisms such as video equipment to display the microscope image, or foot operated cryostats
  • work in pairs when completing counting (i.e. one person counts, the other records)
  • purchase ergonomically designed equipment e.g. ergonomic pipetters; shorter pipettes; instruments that avoid the repetitive and/or sustained use of the body in non-neutral postures or reduce the application of repetitive, sustained, high or sudden force or vibration

Fume Hoods and Biosafety Cabinets

Similar hazards exist for the use of fume hoods and biosafety cabinets. It is difficult to adjust standing and seating arrangements so it is important to reduce the length of time you are using the cabinets, especially if sitting, by reducing the amount of work you load in to the cabinet. More frequent breaks will be needed in order to complete the work.