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Microscope Ergonomics

Although conventional microscope design has not necessarily been a problem for short-term use, long-term sessions have in the past created problems for scientists and technicians who used the instruments. In order to view specimens and record data, microscope operators must assume an unusual and challenging position, with little possibility to move the head or the body, and may be unable to assume the correct posture necessary to avoid incurring injuries. They are often forced to assume an awkward posture with their head bent over the eye tubes, the upper part of the body bent forward, the hand reaching high up for a focusing control, and the wrists bent in an unnatural position. Poor posture and awkward positioning are the primary risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that can affect full-time microscopists, who will often experience pain or injury to the neck, wrists, back, shoulders, and arms.

Helander, M. G., Grossmith, E. J. and Prabhu, P.

Planning and implementation of microscope work.  Applied Ergonomics 22: 36-42 (1991).  The authors examine the factors responsible for visual and postural fatigue in working with the microscope. Corrective measures are suggested, including ergonomic design, process changes, incorporation of video stations, and a training program for inexperienced operators.

Franco, G.

Health disorders and ergonomic concerns from the use of the microscope: A voice from the past.  American Journal of Clinical Pathology 135: 170-171(2011).  A review of musculoskeletal disorders that arise from use of the microscope with an historical perspective. Many of the topics covered in this paper apply to modern instruments and laboratory settings.

Jiang, X., Xiao, Z. and Zhang, J.

Research and application of ergonomics to optical microscope.  Proceedings of SPIE 6624: 66240M(2007).  A study of the interactions of humans with the optical microscope. Addressed are fatigue occurring during repetitive focusing, matching eyepiece height with the eyes, and ensuring illumination levels don't injure the eyes.

Kreczy, A., Kofler, M. and Gschwendtner, A.

Underestimated health hazard: Proposal for an ergonomic microscope workstation.  The Lancet 354: 1701-1702 (1999).  The authors submit a microscope design that should alleviate many of the ergonomic concerns with regards to back pain and tension headache. They show that the new design should reduce electromyographical activity in the most strained muscle groups.

Coward, T. W., Stengel, J. W. and Fellingham-Gilbert, P.

Ergonomics problems and solutions in biotechnology laboratories.  Silicon Valley ergonomics conference, San Jose, CA, 21-22 May (1995).  The authors describe the multi-functional ergonomics program installed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Discussed are ergonomics problems in laboratory functions, such as pipetting, radiation shielding, and microscope work.

Darragh, A. R., Harrison, H. and Kenny, S.

Effect of an ergonomics intervention on workstations of microscope workers.  American Journal of Occupational Therapy 62: 61-69 (2008).  A study that evaluates the effect of an occupational therapy ergonomics intervention on the workstation design and body positioning of microscope workers at a fiber optics facility.

Lee, K. S., Waikar, A. M. and Wu, L.

Physical stress evaluation of microscope work using objective and subjective methods.  International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 2: 203-209 (1988).  Application of electromyography to measure physical stress resulting from prolong microscope use. Twelve subjects ere observed during two four-hour periods of intense microscope work.

Sillanpaa, J., Nyberg, M. and Laippala, P.

A new table for work with a microscope, a solution to ergonomic problems.  Applied Ergonomics 34: 621-628 (2003).  Description of a new table that allows the microscope to be used with the head in an upright position, the forearms supported, and with less flexion of the upper arm. Measurements confirmed that the changes were ergonomic improvements.

Thompson, S. K., Mason, E. and Dukes, S.

Ergonomics and cytotechnologists: Reported musculoskeletal discomfort.  Diagnostic Cytopathology 29: 364-367 (2003).  A survey of 244 responding cytotechnologists shows that a high percentage still suffer from musculoskeletal disorders commonly associated with poor ergonomic design in the workplace, despite the variety of ergonomically designed microscopes that have been introduced into the market.

Soderberg, I., Calissendorff, B., Elofsson, S., Knave, B. and Nyman, K. G.

Investigation of visual strain experienced by microscope operators at an electronics plant.  Applied Ergonomics 14: 297-305 (1983).  An investigation that examined 75 microscope operators to study eye function and visual strain. The results shows that approximately 80 percent of the operators experienced various symptoms of visual strain.