Microscopy ergonomics

Musculo-sceletal risks when working at poorly set-up microscopy work space

Microscopy is quite demanding on the musculo-sceletal system and eyes. This in turn impacts ability to concentrate and complete work to our desired standard.

Working prolonged hours in the same posture is very taxing on posture. Musculo-sceletal problems are the number 1 reason for loss of working hours due to sickness.

Investing in proper ergonomic set-up is essential – whether we are self-employed, or employed (employers are also legally obliged and liable in many countries to minimise health risks at work). Just purely out of self-interest, it pays to invest in good ergonomic set-up and work practices to maintain wellbeing and productive output.
We benefit from better wellbeing and productivity.

Good literature is available from major microscope manufacturers, and in the occupational health science.

As a minimum, consider:

  • Each of us is different. Where multiple users share the same workspace, heigh adjustable desks are essential. A supportive, height adjustable chair, too.
    Even if it is just you, adjustable desks and chair allow subtle adjustments during the day, reducing fatigue and increasing productivity.
  • Consider options to change working posture regularly. I like having a standing desk for this purpose. Alternatively designing work days so there is variability in tasks and posture is helpful.
  • Adjust the set-up of the microscope to your posture, e.g. by raising it on books/blocks. Bring your microscope up to your eye level, to minimise strain on your neck and shoulders.
  • Where prolonged working in the same posture is needed, ensure to get up and move at least every 20 min. Getting up, walking about and blinking regularly is essential.
    Consider using a timer to help establish this habit.
  • How can we minimise repetitive strain? Can our microscope controls be operated by both hands (I struggle to find a stage control that can be worked with both hands)?
  • Keep equipment well serviced, and moving parts greased/oiled (check with your supplier). The more resistence, the more demands on our bodies. It might not seem much with x5 reps a day, but do x50, several times a week, and our body will let us know if we need to attend to something. Best not wait for this, though.
  • When choosing your microscope, check:
    > Are the controls quite low down, so you can rest your arms on the table?
    > Are the head and eye pieces flexible, to adjust to your needs?
    > What is the light source? Are you aware of risks looking at LEDs for prolonged times, and happy to accept this?
    I am not convinced that staring at a bright LED light source is not harmful to my eyes. For that reason, I prefer halogen.
  • Be mindful of lighting. Avoid glare. Being able to control background illumination flexibly with blinds is helpful.
  • I quite like working on a standing desk, as it encourages more upright posture and subtle movements. A soft floor mat to minimise strain on joints will reduce fatigue, too.

    Some useful resources for self-assessment and adjustment options are here:
  • https://protect.iu.edu/environmental-health/occupational-health/ergo-program/lab/microscopy.html
  • https://www.leicabiosystems.com/fileadmin/pdf_uploads/ergo/Leica_Ergo_Handbook_EN.pdf

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