Monthly Archives: January 2016

Ergonomics: A Sometimes Overlooked Element in Lab Safety

lab-safety-ergonomicsWhen presented with the idea, most of us tend to think about lab safety issues that are unique to a lab environment, such as toxic chemicals and loud vacuum pumps. However, working in a lab also brings with it some of the same issues every worker who sits at a desk or in front of computer in any environment faces. Issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, neck and shoulder pain, and lower back issues.

In this post’s pursuit of improving lab safety, we’ll focus on the less obvious dangers of laboratory work; the ergonomic concepts of position, posture and balance, which are key to preventing the development of musculoskeletal disorders in the lab (or anywhere).

Position

One of the ergonomic issues for lab workers is that some lab workstations are primarily designed for the equipment, not the worker. Lab safety issues arise for workers because they have to interact with these machines in positions that the body cannot easily hold for long periods of time. For example, the equipment on your bench may not be at a height that allows for work either sitting or standing, leaving a need to reach awkwardly to operate the apparatus.

To see what we mean, here is an image of a recommended computer work station from OSHA that demonstrates comfortable, safe working positions. Of course, getting your lab bench to multi-task can be a challenge, and this is why our dedicated lab furniture comes with options for attaching a flat screen monitor arm and retractable keyboard shelf—so that you can access your computer components in ways that work for you. We also carry dedicated, adjustable chairs that allow you to work at your lab bench from a height and position that ergonomically correct.

Posture

Of course, ergonomics is about more than getting the right height. It’s about fitting the workspace to the person who works there, rather than the other way around. As that ideal computer workspace illustrates, you need to work using a posture that you can sustain for a significant period of time. For example, your upper arms should remain comfortably at your sides, and your wrists should not be flexed up or down, or twisted to one side or another, as you work. Therefore, you need a keyboard tray that’s wide enough to also hold your mouse, and it should be adjustable to allow your arms and wrists to remain in a neutral position.

Your back and neck also need to be straight, rather than bent or twisted to the side. If you share a lab bench with a large piece of machinery, however, you might find yourself constantly turning your head to one side to see the computer monitor. Working in a chair that easily swivels can help you to maintain that posture of “looking straight ahead” as you work.

Balance

Another key lab safety component in the ergonomics puzzle is balance. This isn’t about maintaining your balance as you reach over your head to refill your HPLC reservoir—although that is a valid lab safety concern, and the reason we created the adjustable HPLC bench. This balance issue is about the strain and energy it takes for your head to work when it’s not properly balanced on your spine. Your head weighs about as much as a bowling ball. Now imagine holding a bowling ball, as you’re about to release it into the lane, but don’t let go…wait…wait…are your wrist and arm hurting yet? How about your lower back?

This is what happens with your neck and back muscles when your head is not properly balanced on your spine. If you lean or hunch forward in order to see your monitor, or tilt your head back—or to the side—to get your bifocals in line with the computer screen, you’re putting a lot of strain on the muscles in your neck and back. Over time, this will result in musculoskeletal disorders—which can lead to decreased productivity and even lost time in the workplace.

Ergonomics, Lab Safety, and Dedicated Lab Furniture

As you can tell from just these few examples, ergonomic considerations are definitely a lab safety issue. This is why we put so much thought into our lab benches. Allowing for proper placements of computer keyboards, adjustable stools and the ability to raise and lower HPLC equipment without stress are just a few of our ergonomic solutions. You can learn more about these issues through various online sources, including available online training modules. To learn more about integrating well-designed dedicated lab furniture into your ergonomics plan, contact us today.

Is Workplace Noise Really a Lab Safety Risk?

workplace-noise-lab-safety-riskThe world is getting louder. Whether it’s mega-concerts or manufacturing, personal music devices or honking horns in traffic jams, noise surrounds us each day, whether at work or at play. It’s so common, it may seem unimportant. In fact, the more we become accustomed to the noises around us, the more we tune them out.

In the laboratory and other workplaces, this becomes a serious safety issue. If you get used to ignoring the sounds around you, what are the chances you’ll also, inadvertently, learn to tune out important sounds that could compromise your safety?

This is one way that noise becomes an important lab safety issue. Workplace noise isn’t just an issue if it’s louder than the warning sounds or conversations you need to hear. It’s also an issue if it prevents your brain from registering the noises you need to hear.

Workplace Noise Stats

The CDC has been collecting data on workplace and lab safety for years. Their data shows that over four million people must function every day in workplace environments that include excessive noise. Ten million citizens in the US suffer from noise-related hearing loss and every year, 22 million workers experience potentially damaging noise in the workplace. That’s a lot of people who are at risk.

The stats for actual hearing damage are also daunting. In 2007, there were 23,000 cases where workplace noise caused hearing impairment in workers. Fourteen percent of occupational illnesses that year were related to hearing loss. These statistics don’t even factor in the recreational noise exposure from concerts and mp3 players!

Correlating Cause and Effect

Of course, this overlap between noise exposures on and off the job is part of what makes it difficult to accurately track noise-related workplace incidents and accidents. However, while it’s difficult to draw absolute cause-and-effect relationships, a recent Canadian study did look a large amount of work-related accident cases to find any connections.

The researcher reviewed the records of fifty thousand plus male workers over a five-year period, in data from the Quebec National Institute of Public Health and the Quebec Workers’ Compensation Board. They discovered correlations between workplace and lab safety issues related to both high noise and hearing loss, some bad enough to require hospitalization of the worker.

The researchers also concluded that 12% of workplace accidents could be attributed to a combination of excessive noise exposure and hearing loss. While this might not seem like a lot, in 2014 there were 1,157,410 days lost from work due to accidents on the job in the US; 12% of that is almost 139,000 missed days of productivity because of noise-related workplace incidents.

So do we have your attention? The US is also doing similar research under the collaborative National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) which was established in 1996. They have made a top priority of studying the diminished ability of workers in noisy workplace environments to communicate with each other and monitor sounds in the workplace.

Reducing Risks with Workplace Health and Lab Safety Options

There are two basic approaches to take in reducing the risk of workplace incidents and accidents related to noise. The first is to address noise within the workplace; the second is to assist workers who have already experienced significant hearing loss.

The first is certainly where we have been putting our efforts. Our contribution to lab safety comes in the form of our dedicated lab furniture, which takes some of the noisiest machines in the lab—MS roughing pumps—and safely isolates them within specifically designed enclosures that decrease their noise level by 75%. Using oil- and fire-resistant foam, we dampen the noise by 15 dBA, making it easier for lab workers to communicate with each other and hear critical noises of experiments that might be about to go rogue. As a result, every lab with an MS housed in one of our IonBench lab benches is a safer place to work.

To learn more about the IonBench MS, contact us today or fill out this form to request a quote and further information.

Answers to Dedicated Lab Furniture FAQs

dedicated-lab-furniture-faqWhy keep important information to yourself when you can share it with the world? We get great questions through our customer support line, and we thought, why not answer some of them for everyone to see. So here are our responses to four common questions we’ve gotten about our dedicated lab furniture. We hope they will help you understand how much flexibility and customization is available when you purchase one of our mass spectrometry or LC dedicated benches for your research lab.

Q: What materials do you use in your IonBench work surfaces?

A: Each type of IonBench has its own specific work surface material. For mass spectrometry, we use Chem Res, a chemical- and water-resistant laminate. This material is used in many types of dedicated lab furniture. For our IonBench LC, we use a surface material manufactured by Trespa, a company that has been making strong surfaces for over 50 years.

Q: What is the typical lead time for purchasing IonBench MS dedicated lab furniture?

A: We typically deliver our furniture three to four weeks after an order is placed. However, we can provide express delivery so that you receive the lab bench within seven to ten days after ordering. Of course, sometimes crises and accidents occur, and you need a new piece of dedicated lab furniture even sooner in order to get your lab up and running again. In those special situations, we can schedule deliveries to arrive in two to three days.

We can also work with you if you have the opportunity to plan ahead. If you’re planning a new lab build or renovation, you can place your order for three or even six months from now, and we will schedule the delivery when you’re ready to receive it. That way you don’t have to worry about storing your new IonBench furniture while you wait for the lab build or renovation to be complete.

Q: Can you reconfigure a mass spectrometry bench with two pump enclosures instead of drawers?

A: Actually, we don’t suggest using two separate enclosures. Instead, we have designed enclosures that can accommodate two vacuum pumps. If you have Edwards pumps, our NE58 enclosure can hold two of their E2M28 or E2M30 vacuum pumps or their scroll pumps. If you’re using Leybold Sogevac SV65 pumps or Varian/Agilent MS40+ pumps, we can fit two of those in our NE78 enclosure. When it comes to dedicated lab furniture, we are innovating along with the MS manufacturers. In fact, we recently introduced an enclosure that can even soundproof the Ebara vacuum pump that comes with the new Waters Vion mass spec.

Q: If I want to customize my new dedicated lab furniture, how does that impact delivery time?

A: Of course, that really depends on what level of customization you’re after. We regularly stock a number of different work surface sizes, so changing out the work surface can be done within the standard 3 to 4 week delivery timeframe. However, if you’re looking for something more substantive, such as space for an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) or dropping the bench height six inches, it can take a little longer.

But almost anything is possible, and we’re happy to do whatever we can to make your new dedicated lab furniture the safest and most efficient workspace you’ve ever used. To start your own custom Q&A session with us, give us a call today at 888-327-4295.