When presented with the idea, most of us tend to think about lab safety issues that are unique to a lab environment, such as toxic chemicals and loud vacuum pumps. However, working in a lab also brings with it some of the same issues every worker who sits at a desk or in front of computer in any environment faces. Issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and shoulder pain, and lower back issues.
In this post’s pursuit of improving lab safety, we’ll focus on the less obvious dangers of laboratory work; the ergonomic concepts of position, posture and balance, which are key to preventing the development of musculoskeletal disorders in the lab (or anywhere).
One of the ergonomic issues for lab workers is that some lab workstations are primarily designed for the equipment, not the worker. Lab safety issues arise for workers because they have to interact with these machines in positions that the body cannot easily hold for long periods of time. For example, the equipment on your bench may not be at a height that allows for work either sitting or standing, leaving a need to reach awkwardly to operate the apparatus.
To see what we mean, here is an image of a recommended computer work station from OSHA that demonstrates comfortable, safe working positions. Of course, getting your lab bench to multi-task can be a challenge, and this is why our dedicated lab furniture comes with options for attaching a flat screen monitor arm and retractable keyboard shelf—so that you can access your computer components in ways that work for you. We also carry dedicated, adjustable chairs that allow you to work at your lab bench from a height and position that ergonomically correct.
Of course, ergonomics is about more than getting the right height. It’s about fitting the workspace to the person who works there, rather than the other way around. As that ideal computer workspace illustrates, you need to work using a posture that you can sustain for a significant period of time. For example, your upper arms should remain comfortably at your sides, and your wrists should not be flexed up or down, or twisted to one side or another, as you work. Therefore, you need a keyboard tray that’s wide enough to also hold your mouse, and it should be adjustable to allow your arms and wrists to remain in a neutral position.
Your back and neck also need to be straight, rather than bent or twisted to the side. If you share a lab bench with a large piece of machinery, however, you might find yourself constantly turning your head to one side to see the computer monitor. Working in a chair that easily swivels can help you to maintain that posture of “looking straight ahead” as you work.
Another key lab safety component in the ergonomics puzzle is balance. This isn’t about maintaining your balance as you reach over your head to refill your HPLC reservoir—although that is a valid lab safety concern, and the reason we created the adjustable HPLC bench. This balance issue is about the strain and energy it takes for your head to work when it’s not properly balanced on your spine. Your head weighs about as much as a bowling ball. Now imagine holding a bowling ball, as you’re about to release it into the lane, but don’t let go…wait…wait…are your wrist and arm hurting yet? How about your lower back?
This is what happens with your neck and back muscles when your head is not properly balanced on your spine. If you lean or hunch forward in order to see your monitor, or tilt your head back—or to the side—to get your bifocals in line with the computer screen, you’re putting a lot of strain on the muscles in your neck and back. Over time, this will result in musculoskeletal disorders—which can lead to decreased productivity and even lost time in the workplace.
Ergonomics, Lab Safety, and Dedicated Lab Furniture
As you can tell from just these few examples, ergonomic considerations are definitely a lab safety issue. This is why we put so much thought into our lab benches. Allowing for proper placements of computer keyboards, adjustable stools and the ability to raise and lower HPLC equipment without stress are just a few of our ergonomic solutions. You can learn more about these issues through various online sources, including available online training modules. To learn more about integrating well-designed dedicated lab furniture into your ergonomics plan, contact us today.