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Avoiding Repetitive-Strain Injuries

Many of the tasks performed in research laboratories place workers at risk for the development of repetitive-strain injuries.

by Other Author
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Many of the tasks performed in research laboratories place workers at risk for the development of repetitive-strain injuries. Potentially hazardous activities include use of equipment such as pipetters, microscopes, microtomes, centrifuges, flow cytometers, cryostats, and computers. Use the following tips to lower your risk exposure:

Be Aware Of Your Posture

  • Maintain the three normal curves of the spine as much as possible - especially while maintaining static positions or bending or lifting. Bending your knees and keeping the inward curve in the low back will help with this.
  • Always work at a cutout in the lab bench. This will allow you to work as close to the bench as possible and to sit back in your chair.
  • Sit back in your chair/stool to keep your back supported. If you sit back and your feet no longer reach the ring or the floor, adjust the ring or get a footstool.
  • Try tilting the seat forward or use a seat wedge to get in a better working position.
  • Avoid spending long periods looking down while reading. Use angled copyholders to position your material.
  • Avoid jutting your chin forward when using the microscope. Adjust the height of the scope, table surface, or chair so that you do not need to strain.
  • Maintain neutral wrist/arm postures as much as possible. Keep your elbows to your sides; this keeps the shoulders in a neutral position. This position can be achieved by sitting close to your work area, holding objects in close to the body, and adjusting the chair up or down to the proper height of the bench.
  • Keep trays and other supplies that are used most frequently within easy reach.
  • Wear shoes with good support and cushioning if your work requires a lot of standing or walking.
  • Shoe inserts can be helpful in reducing discomfort for individuals who stand or walk frequently.
  • If standing in one spot for long periods, use cushioned mats that redistribute pressure on the legs.

To Avoid Wrist/Hand Discomfort

  • Avoid awkward finger and wrist positions when turning knobs on the microscope. Make sure all knobs are clean and in good working order.
  • When pipetting, keep your wrist in a neutral/straight position as if you are shaking hands. Do not twist or rotate the wrist.
  • Keep your wrist straight when taking test tubes in an out of a centrifuge, and keep the centrifuge close so frequent reaching does not have to occur. Also, if the centrifuge is very tall, you may want to position it on a lower surface.
  • Use as little pressure as possible when performing fine motor tasks like pipetting. Try to press the plunger with as light a touch as possible.
  • Exchange traditional pipets for light touch models.
  • Use an electronic pipetter when possible.
  • Use a light touch to get pipette tips on and off the pipette.
  • Drop pipette tips into a low beaker. Try not to have to reach up if you do not have to.
  • Use pipetters that are the correct size for your hand.
  • Use padding when possible to reduce pressure on your body. Pad equipment to increase ease of gripping. For example, pad forceps with small pieces of foam to create a larger surface area.
  • Elbow pads can be worn to reduce pressure on the arms while working in a hood. Apply padding to the edge of the work surface to avoid resting on hard edges.
  • Use gloves that fit properly. Gloves that are too big or small cause undue stress.

Avoid Static Positions

  • When standing for long periods, make sure you weight shift often. Use a stool or shelf to raise one foot off of the floor to relieve pressure on your back.
  • Avoid long sessions of repetitive motion by varying your activities. Change your position and work task frequently. For example, take two-minute breaks for every 20 minutes of pipetting.
  • Alternate the position of objects such as forceps held in your hand. Alternating between the thumb and the first finger and the first and second fingers will vary the task. Even when alternating, don’t forget to take breaks every 20 minutes to allow muscles to rest and the blood to flow back into your fingers.
  • Always try to plan ahead. Think about how your work tasks affect your body mechanics and adjust accordingly.