Do You Care about You?
Do You Care about You?

As laboratorians, we think very little about ergonomics until we start to suffer with some sort of pain or injury that interferes with the things we set out to do. We’re not very proactive about ergonomics, and that’s not just true in our field of work. It’s not because we don’t care about ourselves, but if it doesn’t affect us today, we tend to put off thinking about it. That’s unfortunate because ignoring good body mechanics today can often mean poor physical health in your later years when you may wish to retire and enjoy other activities.
There’s cost to consider as well. Ergonomics injuries (such as musculoskeletal disorders or MSDs) cost United States workplaces up to $55 billion each year. Look at that number again- that’s just the cost paid by work places, this does not include money paid for such issues after retirement – and of course so many of these injuries follow people into their sunset years. You may not be thinking about it today, but that is not how you will want to live, and you don’t have to.

In the lab setting, we have many areas to consider when focusing on good body mechanics. Let’s look at just a few:

Standing: If you stand for long periods of time at work, put one foot up on a foot rest or task chair ring. This relieves pressure on the back muscles by about 50%.

Sitting: Make sure the chair you use is at a proper height for the work being performed, and make sure it is adjustable for multiple users.

Computers: The top of the monitor should be at your eye level, the keyboard should be flat (or use a wrist rest to keep your wrists straight), and the mouse and keyboard should be at the same level.

Microscopes: Adjust your seat and scope so your back is straight during use. Use pads if your arms rest on the corner of the counter.

Lifting: Lift with your legs, and get help for heavier objects. Store heavy objects near the floor, and use carts or other devices to move them.

One key thing to remember with ergonomics is that no motion or action should be repeated for a long period of time. Take breaks. The general rule is to stop what you’re doing at least once every 20 minutes to give your body a rest. If you do computer or microscope work for a large part of the day, follow the “20-20-20” rule. Every 20 minutes, look away from the scope or screen at something about 20 feet away, and do this for at least 20 seconds. This can go far in preventing issues like Computer Vision Syndrome.

Stretching while at work is also a key component to good ergonomics practices. While it may not sound practical, there are motions that can be performed on the job that will help relieve impending muscle issues.

Neck stretches: Roll your head very slowly all around, change direction and roll the other way.

Arm/shoulder/side stretches: Reach high above your head, lower your arms, roll your shoulders forward a few times, reach in front of you, relax your arms, roll shoulder backward. You can also lean slowly to each side with your arms raised to stretch your sides.

Leg stretches: Point legs and toes out straight and reach, hold that for a few seconds, relax your legs, repeat.

Performing these stretches will provide some immediate relief of and musculoskeletal issues, you will be surprised at how much better you will feel once done. Also, be sure to stand up periodically as well.

The College of American Pathologists (CAP) requires a lab ergonomics program. CAP states, “There is a written ergonomics program to prevent musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace through prevention and engineering controls.” Your laboratory or hospital should have a written ergonomics program. A well-written ergonomics policy will provide laboratorians with guidelines for good ergonomics practices. It should also describe what should be done if an ergonomics issue arises. Contact your occupational health representative if you are unsure about how to follow up with a laboratory ergonomics injury or complaint.

Ergonomics is the science of adapting the job and the equipment and the human to each other for optimal safety and efficiency. Putting that together today should important enough to you to act on it. If you do, you can ensure a healthier and happier tomorrow.

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