The Study of Work?
The Study of Work?

A few years ago the average age of medical technologists working in the field was 51, and that number is climbing. Many are nearing what they hope to be happy and healthy retirement years. Sometimes, though, those years are not so happy and healthy. Issues may arise such as carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and back pain, tendonitis and bursitis, and issues with vision. Some of these health issues can be a direct result of how you performed your job in the laboratory – they may occur because you did not pay attention to ergonomics.

The word “Ergonomics” is formed from two Greek words; Ergon which means “work,” and Nomos which means “the study of.” Logically then, ergonomics means “the study of work.” Clearly that does not make a clear or helpful definition. Ergonomics is the science of adapting the job and the equipment and the human to each other for optimal safety and efficiency.

In the realm of laboratory safety, ergonomics tends to take a back seat to other safety priorities. Part of the reason is that the effects of poor ergonomic practices do not show up for years. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and repetitive motion injuries take a long time to develop, but they have long-lasting and sometimes crippling effects.

Ergonomics should be a part of any lab safety program. Train your staff how to work properly with equipment, to take breaks from repetitive actions, to use proper body mechanics, and to report potential ergonomics issues. Perform an ergonomics assessment and make necessary changes. Are foot rests and floor mats provided and adequate? Do chairs allow for the proper adjustments? Are counters and work benches set up for easy reach of materials and equipment? Is there special training for those who work at computers or microscopes for long periods?

If you don’t feel that you can expertly perform an ergonomics assessment in the lab, reach out to a resource to help. Check with your provider of Occupational or Employee Health services. They may be ready and willing to perform the assessments for you or even provide you with training. In time you will be able to watch for ergonomics issues in several aspects of lab work: sitting, standing, computer work, microscope work, micro-manipulation, and lifting.

Ergonomics issues have been costly to the United States medical system, and surgery costs are increasing. That added to the time away from work, the time and effort for training replacement staff, and the overall staff shortages make musculoskeletal disorders a major financial and productivity problem for laboratorians. The issue can be quiet and insidious.

Raise awareness of ergonomics and MSD issues in your lab, and explain long-term consequences of poor practices. Helping your lab staff to focus on ergonomics - the science of adapting the job and the equipment and the human to each other for optimal safety and efficiency – protects your lab staff today and in the future.

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