Sedentarism and other physical health risks for laboratory workers
9 Jun 2021
During the course of the last year, many more people have had to get used to working from home. There are of course, lots of workers who are still going into their offices and laboratories every day – and one problem is universal for all. Here, Jennifer Wright looks at how to stay fit when you’re deskbound and have little chance to move around?
Some of the biggest health risks for laboratory workers include chemical, biological and electrical hazards, but their physical integrity can also be at risk - as stated in a report on health and safety risks, compiled by Lab Manager. Physical dangers can include engaging in repetitive awkward postures, using non-ergonomic furniture or working in a non-ergonomic lab layout, and sedentarism.
Sedentary behaviour, reports S Kozey-Keadle and colleagues, can be defined as “energy expenditure between 1–1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs) while sitting or reclining and accounts for the majority of occupational, transportation, and discretionary time” for lab and office workers alike.
Sitting for several hours a day while conducting tests, researching information, or planning testing procedures, is linked to an increased risk of cancer, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, chronic disease, and mortality. How can sedentarism and other physical risks be reduced within laboratory settings?
Improving ergonomics in the lab
Reducing physical hazards should begin with a concerted strategy on the part of employers. Providing laboratory workers with ergonomic equipment (for instance, magnetic assist pipettes to reduce the frequency of hand force) should be a priority. Standing desks can be provided to those working on computers and those who need to sit for several hours to conduct their work. Training employees on how to use standing desks is also key. To make the most of this investment, employees should neither sit nor stand for several hours straight. Standing desks should be used appropriately - that is, at a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1 (sitting to standing) to reduce everything from back pain to the risk of developing heart disease.
Reducing injury risks
Risks of injury in laboratories can include cluttered workspaces, a lack of appropriate storage furniture, and sharp containers. Laboratories should ensure that employees use puncture and leak-proof containers. Safe, organised storage areas should be created so as to reduce the risk of trips and falls. The way equipment and material is stored is also vital. Bundles, bags, containers and the like should be stable and secure. They should, additionally, be stored at as low a level as possible to avoid items falling to the ground or injuring workers. Items stored should be far from items that can cause explosions, fires, and the appearance of pests.
Eliminating electrical hazards
There are many preventive steps that laboratories can take to reduce electrical hazards. These include inspecting equipment (and its wiring) prior to use, limiting the use of extension cords, using circuit breakers for multi-plug adapters, and keeping electrical equipment far from chemicals. Electrical cords should be well insulated, and all live parts of electrophoresis devices should be shielded with Plexiglas or similar shields so as to prevent exposure.
Laboratory workers are exposed to a variety of risks - including physical ones. Laboratories should adopt a series of measures to reduce these risks. This can be achieved through better office ergonomics, the reduction of injury risks, and the elimination of any possible electrical hazards.
Author: Jennifer Wright worked in occupational health before turning her hand to science writing