Ergonomics is commonly defined as fitting the job or equipment used on the job, to the worker. It is the science of designing a workplace to reduce fatigue and potential for development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) while increasing productivity. The word itself comes from the Greek “ergon” meaning work and “nomos” meaning law.
Ergonomics in the lab includes many things you would traditionally think of, such as posture while at the cryostat; are you sitting or standing? Click here to read our post specifically on cryostat ergonomics. But ergonomics can also refer to some surprising factors, including lab temperature. Sitting directly under a vent blowing too cold air can cause neck strains due to tense muscles. Major ergonomic risk factors to consider are posture, force, and repetition.
As previously mentioned, posture is pretty self-explanatory, are you slouching or bent over to do your work? You should consider the height of your equipment and the chair you are sitting in, which ideally is height adjustable to accommodate various staff of different heights. Force is the amount of muscular effort required to perform a task. This could be relevant in the lab for things such as opening specimen containers. You may not realize it, but over time, the constant opening of specimen jars can contribute to the aches and pains histotechs feel from repeated motions. One way people have coped with this is to purchase a jar opener. These can be found at your regular stores, like Bed Bath and Beyond, or other places that sell cookware. You want to get one with a rubber area for best grip on the lid. Others recommend a strap wrench, which you can get at a hardware store.
Repetition is using the same muscles and tendons to perform the same task repeatedly, which takes a toll on those body parts being used. This is specifically an issue for techs who don’t rotate stations regularly, and are on one station, such as embedding for an extended period of time. The best solution to repetitive stress pain is simply to rotate tasks, which may be something you can talk to your supervisor about. If that is not an option, trying equipment such as ergonomic forceps that are specifically designed to reduce repetition pain can also be an option, though an expensive one your lab may not budget for. If you are not able to address the root cause of the pain, you can try treating the symptoms with things like capsaicin cream or kinesiology tape. Relaxing your hands between cassettes or taking mini breaks every so often can also reduce strain.
Ergonomics doesn’t have a specific OSHA standard. Instead it is generally looked at under OSHA’s “general duty clause” which states that a workplace must be free of hazards. CAP Gen .77200 standard though does require there be a written ergonomics program to prevent MSDs in the workplace.