How Ergonomics in the Lab Can Decrease Injuries

October 19, 2023
scientist sitting in front of a table inside a lab
The risk of immediate or long-term harm caused by ergonomics issues is present in most lab environments. For example, something as common as lifting a 5-gallon bucket of liquid without assistance can cause pain or stress to the body.
Musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) is one of the most common issues that results from not taking an ergonomics approach to working in a lab. This is a condition in which an injury occurs to the musculoskeletal system over time due to trauma.

While ergonomics isn’t top of mind for many organizations, it’s important to companies like Fisher HealthCare, a channel of Thermo Fisher Scientific. That’s why Fisher HealthCare recently sponsored a webinar featuring Dan Scungio, a laboratory safety officer. 

Better known as “Dan the Lab Safety Man,” Scungio has more than 30 years of experience as a certified medical laboratory scientist and has provided on-site educational, safety and ergonomics training for labs of all sizes. 

The word “ergonomics” is derived from the Greek words Ergon, meaning “work,” and Nomos, meaning “study of.” However, Scungio has his own definition. “Ergonomics is the science of adapting the job and the equipment and the human to each other for optimal safety and efficiency,” he says.


The cost of injuries such as MSD is higher than many lab workers may expect. Scungio says the costs add up:

  • $20 billion annually  
  • 1/3 of all workers’ compensation costs are because of MSDs
  • MSD cases typically cost twice the amount of other work injuries

The cost to organizations is also high:

  • Workers’ compensation payments
  • Medical bills for injured employees
  • Lost revenue when employees miss work
  • Replacement staff costs

The effects of poor ergonomics are far-reaching:

  • Decreased productivity
  • Unhappy employees
  • Increased sick days
  • Health issues such as carpal tunnel, trigger finger, tendonitis, back pain, deafness and computer vision syndrome

There’s also the cost of a person’s compromised lifestyle. Scungio explains that people nearing retirement often come to the unpleasant realization that their dreams to travel or do other long-awaited activities are in jeopardy because their body is in pain from decades of not following ergonomics best practices.   
“Isn’t it more cost-effective to prevent these injuries today?” he asks.


Everyday tasks can cause health problems. The upside is that oftentimes, simple solutions can help:

Relieve back stress when standing for long periods of time. Standing on a hard floor can stress the back. Scungio says one way to alleviate that stress is to simply rest one foot on something that’s elevated. For example, a person can prop up one foot on the footrest or foot ring of a chair or something similar, which will relieve 50% of the pressure on back muscles while the person is standing. Floor mats also relieve pressure when standing or walking.

Never lift heavy objects alone. Workers should not lift heavy items without help, such as a 5-gallon bucket of any type of liquid. When employees lift something, they should use their legs—not their backs. Another helpful tip from Scungio is to place heavy items on lower-level shelves so employees lift them only the minimum amount necessary.  

Take advantage of chair accessories. Sitting all day can also cause ergonomics issues. Scungio’s advice is for employees to have fully adjustable chairs—with six or more points of adjustment for the back, seat and height. He also encourages workers to use the chair’s lumbar support and footrests for comfort and to relieve stress.

Adjust your workstation for comfort. Even minor discomforts can stress the body and over time lead to significant problems. Scungio encourages employees to ensure workbenches in the lab are at the proper height to avoid leaning or bending, and supplies are within arm’s length—4 to 18 inches from the edge when standing and within 24 inches when sitting. There should be knee and foot clearance when seated, and the workstations should have rounded or padded edges to avoid injury if someone bumps into them.  

Use the 20/20/20 rule when using microscopes. Employees using microscopes should keep them close to the edge of the worksurface to avoid leaning over. The microscope should also be properly adjusted to prevent bending. Scungio promotes the 20/20/20 rule, which is that every 20 minutes of looking into a microscope, workers should lift their head and look about 20 feet away, for about 20 seconds to give the eyes a break. This same rule is also recommended for employees looking at a computer screen for long periods of time. 


““That’s the key with ergonomics—don’t do anything repetitively for too long a time.”
-Dan Scungio, laboratory safety officer”

Ergonomics best practices for laboratory environments include avoiding awkward positions when sitting or standing, taking breaks every 20 minutes and being comfortable while working. Repetitive movements every day over long periods of time can cause injuries.
“That’s the key with ergonomics—don’t do anything repetitively for too long a time,” Scungio says.
A recent webinar sponsored by Fisher Healthcare, “Ergonomics in the Lab: Increasing Productivity,” offers advice on how to manage a laboratory safety plan, identifies the most common ergonomics hazards and offers actionable insights to deliver ergonomics benefits. The expert insights can be applied to every lab and every facet of a lab. 

Watch the webinar to learn how to:

  • Identify laboratory ergonomics regulations and regulatory agencies
  • Gain an in-depth understanding of laboratory ergonomics pitfalls
  • Find cost-effective solutions to real-world ergonomics hazards
  • Create and use an ergonomics assessment for the lab

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