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5.1 Laboratory Set-up and Equipment Use

Proper laboratory set-up and equipment use helps to reduce the risk of Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSDs) in the lab. Follow the guidelines below when working in the laboratory.

5.1.1 Laboratory Workbenches

When used inappropriately, laboratory workbenches can create an ergonomic risk. Most workbenches at the Hutchinson Center are of fixed heights and cannot be raised or lowered. Ideally, lab workbenches should be at the following heights (see Figure VIII.3):

  1. Precision work: Workbench height should be above elbow height (approximately 37 to 43 inches above the floor).
  2. Light work: Workbench height should be just below elbow height (approximately 34 to 37 inches above the floor).
  3. Heavy work: Workbench should be 4-6 inches below elbow height (approximately 28 to 35 inches above the floor).
Figure VIII.3: Ideal Laboratory Workbench Heights Vary Depending on Procedure
Figure VIII.3: Ideal Laboratory Workbench Heights Vary Depending on Procedure
Figure VIII.3: Ideal Laboratory Workbench Heights Vary Depending on Procedure

5.1.2 Preventive Measures for Bench Work

Observing the following can reduce risks for injury:

  1. Always assume proper sitting or standing posture.
  2. When sitting, use only an adjustable stool or a chair with a built-in footrest to insure lower back, thigh, and foot support, or use an external footrest.
  3. If leg clearance is not available, the workbench must not be used for seated work. Otherwise, create legroom under the bench by removing drawers, supplies and other materials under the workbench.
  4. When standing for extended periods of time, use an anti-fatigue mat and a footrest for propping one foot up at a time to reduce joint strain and muscle fatigue.
  5. Take frequent small breaks to interrupt repetition, awkward body posture, and static muscle work.

5.1.3 Pipetting

Pipetting involves thumb force, repetitive motion, and awkward postures for the wrists, arms and shoulders. These factors tend to be exacerbated by the mental pressure resulting from the accuracy, precision and timing necessary for many pipetting procedures.

Reduce Pipetting Injuries

Observing the following can reduce risks for injury:

  1. Perform your work only at appropriate heights. (See Section 5.1.1: Laboratory Workbenches.)
  2. When sitting, ensure lower back and thigh support by using an adjustable stool or chair with a built-in footrest, or use an external footrest.
  3. Be sure to work with wrists in neutral positions (straight).
  4. Adjust height and position of sample holders, solution container, and waste receptacle to prevent twisting and bending of your wrist and neck. Keep items close to avoid reaching.
  5. Reduce shoulder strain by arranging work to keep elbows and arms close to the body.
  6. Use short pipettes and shorter waste receptacles for used tips in order to reduce reaching.
  7. Use electronic pipettes for highly repetitive pipetting tasks or for larger workloads to reduce or eliminate contact pressure on thumb.
  8. Use ergonomic pipettes when possible.
  9. Alternate continuous pipetting with other tasks, or take small rest breaks every 20 minutes.

5.1.4 Microscopy

Operating a microscope for long hours puts strain on the neck, shoulders, eyes, lower back, and arms/wrists.

Posture at the Microscope

Observing the following guidelines can reduce injuries resulting from microscope use:

  1. Make sure leg and knee clearance under workbench is adequate.
  2. Always assume proper sitting position. Ensure proper lower back and thigh support. Maintain neutral curves of spine.
  3. Ensure that feet are flat on floor or supported by a footrest.
  4. Adjust the microscope's eyepiece height to allow for neutral posture of the head and neck. The vertical position of the eyepiece should be a little high for comfort, so that your head is upright.
  5. Position microscope as close as possible towards you to ensure upright head position.
  6. Do not work with your elbows winged. Keep your elbows close to sides.
  7. Make sure to work with wrists in a neutral (straight) position. Avoid forearm and wrist contact pressure. Pad sharp edges with foam, or pad wrists and forearms to reduce pressure.
  8. Use a video display terminal when appropriate to view sample, reducing eye and neck strain.
  9. Make sure scopes remain clean all the time, and lighting is of proper intensity.
  10. Take mini-breaks often to allow muscles to relax and to stretch.

5.1.5 Biological Safety Cabinets/Fume Hoods:

Working in biological safety cabinets (also known as BSCs) or fume hoods requires laboratory personnel to assume a variety of awkward postures due to limited work access. These restrict arm movement and therefore significantly increase the amount of stress on joints of the upper limbs, neck, and back.

Observing the following can reduce risks for injury:

  1. Prevent over-extension by placing materials as close as possible. Perform your work at least six inches back into the hood or BSC to maintain optimal airflow containment for material and personal protection.
  2. Always assume a proper posture. Use only an adjustable chair or stool, and use a footrest if your feet do not rest firmly on the floor.
  3. Avoid contact pressure of the forearm and wrists on sharp edges. Apply foam padding to the front sharp edge of the fume hood or BSC to reduce pressure.
  4. Use a turntable to store equipment near the worker. This reduces excessive reaching and twisting, which places an increased load on the low back.
  5. When standing for extended periods of time, use anti-fatigue mats and a footrest for propping one foot up at a time to reduce joint strain and muscle fatigue.
  6. Take short breaks to alter repetitive forearm and wrist motion, and to relieve joint pressure and contact pressure caused by sharp edges.
  7. Reduce eyestrain and awkward posture by keeping the viewing window of hood or BSC clean, and your line of sight unobstructed.