Laboratory Ergonomics

Tips for Laboratory Workers

Many tasks performed in research laboratories place workers at risk of muscle and joint aches and strains. Activities such as using pipettes, microscopes, microtomes, and centrifuges can put stress on your body. Use the following tips to lower your exposure to risk:

Be Aware of Your Posture

  • Sit against the back of your chair. If you sit back and your feet dangle, lower the chair or adjust the foot ring or get a footrest.
  • Try tilting the seat forward or use a seat wedge to work in a forward posture without leaning or jutting your head forward.
  • Always try to work at a bench cut out. Cut outs can help you get close to your work while sitting against the back of your chair.
  • Don't put your chin forward when working. Adjust the position of your work, the work surface, or the chair to sit in an upright, supported position.
  • Keep frequently used trays and supplies within close reach.
  • If standing for long periods, use supportive shoes and cushioned mats.

Keep Arms and Hands Relaxed

  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your sides when working. Avoid reaching out to use instruments and work materials.
  • Maintain neutral or aligned wrist and arm postures when working. Sit close to your work area, keep objects close, and adjust your chair to match the height of the bench.
  • Avoid repetitive or forceful twisting and turning motions (i.e. opening valves or adjusting microscopes). Make sure valves and knobs are clean and in good working order.
  • Work with your wrist in a neutral or straight position as if you were shaking hands with someone.
  • Use light pressure when performing tasks such as pipetting.
  • Use electronic pipettes or light touch models whenever possible.
  • Select equipment and tools that are the right size for your hand.
  • Use padding and tubing to reduce pressure and force when working. For example, use rubber tubing on forceps to increase diameter and reduce pinch force. Soften sharp edges on work surfaces with padding.
  • Use thin, flexible gloves that fit properly. Ill-fitting and poorly designed gloves increase pinch and grip forces when working.

Avoid static positions

  • Weight shift often when standing to work. Use a stool or shelf to prop up a foot to relieve pressure on your back.
  • If standing in one spot for long periods, use cushioned floor mats or shoes with good support.
  • Alternate how you hold objects like forceps. Switch holding with the thumb and index finger, and the index and middle fingers to vary the task.
  • Vary activities. Change your position and take breaks every 20 minutes to rest muscles and to increase blood flow and circulation.

Tips for Pipetting

  • Use anti-fatigue floor mats if standing for long periods.
  • Sit supported against the backrest of your chair.
  • Sit or stand close to your work at bench cut-outs. Adjust your chair to work height rather than jutting out your chin or bending your neck down when working.
  • Elevate your chair rather than reaching up to pipette.
  • Do not twist or rotate your wrist while pipetting.
  • Alternate or use both hands to pipette.
  • Hold the pipetter with a relaxed grip.
  • Use minimal pressure while pipetting.
  • Use light force or two hands to change tips.
  • Use low profile tubes, solution containers and waste receptacles.
  • Select a light-weight pipetter sized for your hand.
  • Use pipetters with finger aspirators and thumb dispensers to reduce thumb strain.
  • Use latch-mode or electronic pipetters for repetitive pipetting.
  • Take a 1 to 2 minute break after every 20 minutes of pipetting.

Tips for Using a Microscope

  • Use a chair that provides good back support.
  • Sit close to your work surface.
  • Remove false fronts and supplies from under the bench work area.
  • Avoid leaning on hard edges.
  • Pad forearms and edges.
  • Keep elbows close by your sides.
  • Work with wrists in straight, neutral positions.
  • Adjust your chair, workbench, or microscope as needed to maintain an upright head position.
  • Elevate, tilt or move the microscope close to the edge of the counter to avoid bending your neck.
  • Use adjustable eye-pieces or mount your microscope on a 30° angle stand for easier viewing.
  • Keep scopes repaired and clean.
  • Spread microscope work throughout the day and between several people, if possible.
  • Take breaks. Every 15 minutes, close your eyes or focus on something in the distance. Every 30-60 minutes, get up to stretch and move.

Tips for Using Laboratory Fume Hoods and Bio-Safety Cabinets

  • Use anti-fatigue floor mats if standing for long periods.
  • Adjust your chair height and sit back in the seat using the backrest.
  • Use footrests and foot rings for leg support.
  • Avoid resting your forearms on hard edges.
  • Pad forearms, elbows or hard edges (avoid interference with air flow!).
  • Position work supplies as close as possible to the edge of the work area to reduce reaching.
  • Place equipment on approved turntables for easy retrieval.
  • Use diffused lighting to limit glare.
  • Take short breaks to stretch muscles and relieve forearm and wrist pressure.