Pipetting is a prevalent lab activity that constitutes a large portion of bench time. As such, it plays an important role in assay performance and the well-being of laboratory workers. As assays and applications become more sensitive with continually decreasing reaction volumes, small pipetting errors have an outsized impact on data quality. Combining ergonomic solutions with proper pipetting technique improves both the reliability of results and the health of technicians by minimizing errors caused by fatigue and the risk of work-related upper limb disorders like repetitive strain injuries (RSIs).
THE HAZARDS OF PIPETTING
Pipetting accuracy and performance decline over hours-long pipetting sessions due to fatigue-driven mistakes or pain-driven technique changes. According to the International Organization for Standardization, sources of error in pipetting include uneven rhythm and holding the pipette incorrectly, all a likely result of user pain or fatigue. In a test of pipetting angle by Sartorius, holding the pipette at the wrong angle during a serial dilution resulted in 9.4 percent error compared to the expected final concentration
The amount of pipetting performed across a year has a large impact as well. On average, lab technicians pipette 500 hours per year. RSIs, like thumb tenosynovitis, lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), and carpal tunnel syndrome, have been associated with pipetting only 300 hours per year.
Laboratory personnel working long days under extreme circumstances are particularly prone to strain and fatigue, bringing renewed urgency to concerns over the accuracy, precision, and safety of pipetting. For example, the testing load for COVID-19 has been immense with clinical lab technicians completing 3.3 billion pipetting intensive tests globally in 18 months. Sustainably supporting the health and safety of lab staff is a priority.
Proper ergonomic pipette design alone can reduce the risk of RSIs. Pipette ergonomics focus largely on allowing a light, comfortable grip and minimizing the force required to operate it. Individual actions like piston control and tip ejection can add up to 35.5 kN over 3 hours of using a non-ergonomic mechanical pipette.
Electronic pipettes are generally touted as one of the best ergonomic solutions due to reduced force and repetition, with some even offering electronic tip ejection. A fully electronic pipette adds up to just 7.4 kN over 3 hours, a total force reduction of up to 80 percent compared to a mechanical pipette. Weight of the pipette is an important factor, however—many electronic pipettes are heavier than mechanical pipettes, which can again increase user strain and fatigue over long sessions.
THE RIGHT PIPETTE CAN DRASTICALLY IMPROVE ACCURACY
In another Sartorius test of accuracy, ergonomic pipettes offered consistent, precise pipetting results over 3 hours, compared with non-ergonomic pipettes that had large standard deviations for pipetting results.
Pipetting near-maximum volumes offers the highest accuracy and precision. For example, pipetting 95 μL with a 100 μL pipette is preferable to pipetting the same volume with a 200 μL pipette. Sartorius found, however, that their electronic 120 μL pipette achieved the same level of precision pipetting 20 μL as a mechanical 20 μL pipette due to elimination of human error.
Pipetting accuracy can be improved with additional features that remove user variation and allow users to focus on critical technique like angle and tip placement. Examples include multiple modes that perform pipetting activities like diluting, titrating, and serial dispensing, adjustable calibrations that accommodate variable conditions and fluids, and programmable multi-step protocols that change modes and volumes accordingly. Plate tracking features also increase reliability by reducing the types of mistakes common to all-day work with 96 and 384 microwell plates. Speeding up serial and sequential dispensing modes means less time spent pipetting, further reducing strain and fatigue.
Sartorius has found that one of the main customer concerns related to pipetting is reducing the risk of upper limb disorders, such as RSI. They listened to customers, combining their extensive experience and state-of-the-art R&D, to create exceptionally ergonomic pipettes. They created over 100 prototypes of just the handle to arrive at the final design for their Picus® and Tacta® pipettes. The ergonomic electronic Picus® pipettes are designed to improve laboratory personnel comfort, concentration, and accuracy as they reduce strain and fatigue, even during lengthy pipetting sessions. Weighing in at 100 g, they’re the lightest electronic pipette on the market.
Pipetting can be an intensive, encompassing task. Using the right technology can greatly improve data quality and reliability as well as the health and safety of workers.
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