Laboratory Ergonomic Risk Factors & How to Avoid Them

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Laboratory Ergonomic Risk Factors & How to Avoid Them

Laboratory as a workplace has its risks and challenges. Some of the repetitive laboratory tasks increase the risk of getting strain injuries. Microscopes, pipettes, computers, and other equipment in a lab also increase the risk of getting injuries. Excessive lifting and reaching for materials, awkward posture, and repetitive movements affect the productivity and the comfort level of people working in the laboratory.

The main reason for ergonomic-related issues in the laboratory happens because of repetitive movements and awkward postures. Researchers who spend most of their time in the laboratory are at risk of trauma injuries. Prolonged periods of standing and sitting in the laboratory also risk and stress the laboratory technicians.

Ergonomic risk factors in the laboratory

The symptoms of cumulative trauma injuries include numbness, tingling, stiffness, pain, cramping, and inability to hold or grip objects. It is easy to treat cumulative trauma injuries if they are diagnosed early. Ignoring such symptoms would lead to serious injury.

The physical force applied to any part of the body while pulling or pushing or lifting or gripping any lab equipment or tools may cause injuries. Working in extremely cold air temperatures may cause nimbleness in body parts.

While handling samples, laboratory technicians work continuously in a bent position with the arms raised above the shoulders or hands and wrists extended in front. This will lead to awkward body postures. While handling test samples, lab technicians repeatedly press or pour into vials or swab petri dishes that strain hands and arms.

Tips to avoid ergonomic risks

You can follow some simple tips to avoid ergonomic risks that lead to pain and injuries.

  • While standing and working at your lab desk, wear sneakers and use an anti-fatigue mat to reduce fatigue caused by standing for long hours on the floor. You can relieve pressure on the back by propping a foot up.
  • When you are sitting and working, sit with your back against the chair. Use a footrest or adjust the foot ring to keep your feet firm on the ground while working.
  • Laboratory items that are used frequently must be kept within your arm’s reach.
  • Keep your arms, hands, and shoulders relaxed and elbows close to your side while doing your routine testing.
  • Take care to use bottle dispensing carboys or bottle dispensers for dispensing liquids.
  • Check if all laboratory equipment is clean and in good working condition to reduce repetition of work or forceful turning and twisting.
  • The laboratory table must be equipped with proper lighting.

Using Microscopes

Lab technicial using microscope

Before you use a microscope, verify if it is placed in the correct position. Remember to sit against the back of the chair so that your back rests comfortably on the chair. Look into the microscope in an upright position and take care to have the microscope close to the edge of your laboratory table.

Raise the equipment in a comfortable position when you look into the viewing tube by bending your head. While observing the specimen, maintain an upright posture. It will reduce the tilting of your head and avoid rounded shoulders. Use mobile armrests while using the microscope. It is good to avoid awkward wrist and finger positions while turning knobs of the microscope.

Using Pipettes

Lab technician using pipettes

Avoid using pipettes repeatedly, for it can cause repetitive strain injuries. If you are using pipettes for more than two hours a day, it can cause pain in the forearm, thumb, shoulder, and elbow. It is good to keep your wrist in a straight position while using the pipette. You must avoid rotating or twisting your wrists. Take care to handle pipettes with little pressure while picking and dropping the tips. 

Using Lab chairs and stools

Laboratory technicians spend most of their time sitting and working. The way lab technicians sit and work in the lab chair or stool affects their efficiency and overall influences their productivity. Height adjustable footrests in the chair help technicians to work in an upright posture.  Lab chairs with built-in-lumbar support help to work comfortably. The height, depth, and angle of the arms of the chair reduce strain in their hands during repetitive movements while using a pipette or a swab.

It is quite common to see technicians leaning forward while working. It is because they don’t understand the additional strain it has on their bodies. To avoid this, they must sit back in the chair and sit close to the worktable. They must remember to rest their foot firmly on the ground.


A laboratory environment must fulfil the needs and requirements of technicians who are at risk of cumulative trauma injuries. Opening and closing vials and caps, using a small handheld tool, repeatedly using pipettes to pick and drop tips, sitting for prolonged hours at a microscope or a biological safety cabinet produces wear and tear of tissues. So understanding the risks and challenges, with regular monitoring of equipment will help to reduce ergonomic-related risks and injuries.


Jake is an ergonomic specialist who works with workers/employees to conduct office ergonomic assessments and solve ergonomic issues.

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