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Ergonomics

The MIT EHS Industrial Hygiene Program provides ergonomic support for students and staff to help provide a workspace where you can be comfortable and productive.

Spending your workday sitting at your computer, standing in a lab or lifting heavy objects, performing day-to-day movements and repetitive actions can lead to a number of physical issues, from persistent muscle aches, tendon inflammation, and subsequent disability that in some cases may be permanent.

Resources for Ergonomic Support

Ergonomic Self-Assessment

If you are having trouble with your workspace, the ergonomic self-assessment tool is a great place to start. This training module will help you to adjust your workstation accordingly based on your responses. The results of your self-evaluation will be automatically sent to the Industrial Hygiene Program and be classified by risk level.

Complete the Ergonomic Self-Assessment

EHS Ergonomic Evaluation

If you would like an in-person evaluation after taking the self-assessment, you can submit a request via the EHS Ergonomic Evaluation website for further assistance.  A member of the Ergonomics Team will reach out to you within a few business days.

Request an Ergonomic Evaluation

Ergonomics and MSDs

The goal of ergonomics is to prevent injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture. To create an ergonomically sound work environment, it is recommended to design workspaces to fit your physical capabilities and limitations.

Work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. Employees and students can be exposed to risk factors at work, such as:

  • lifting heavy items
  • bending
  • reaching overhead
  • pushing and pulling heavy loads
  • working in awkward body postures
  • performing repetitive tasks

Exposure to these known risk factors for MSDs increases a worker’s risk of injury. Work-related MSDs can be prevented by fitting a job to a person. It can help lessen muscle fatigue, increased productivity and reduce the severity of work-related MSDs. Common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist)
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries (shoulder)
  • Epicondylitis (elbow)
  • Trigger finger
  • muscle strains
  • low back injuries

Office Ergonomics

If you sit at a desk or work with your computer for hours, you are potentially at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Proper office ergonomics can help you stay comfortable and safe at work. At your workstation, you should consider the following components.

Chair

Choose a chair that supports your spinal curves. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Adjust armrests so your arms gently rest on them with your shoulders relaxed.

Desk

Under the desk, make sure there is enough clearance for your knees, thighs, and feet. If the desk is too low and cannot be adjusted, place sturdy boards or blocks under the desk legs. If the desk is too high and cannot be adjusted, raise your chair. If your desk has a hard edge, pad the edge or use a wrist rest. Do not store items under your desk.

Footrest

Use a footrest if your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor or the height of your desk requires you to raise the height of your chair. If a footrest is not available, try using a small stool or a stack of sturdy books instead.

Keyboard and Mouse

Place your mouse within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the sensitivity of the mouse so you can use a light touch to operate it.

Monitor

Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away (between 18 and 30 inches). The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. This allows the eyes to gravitate naturally toward the center of the screen. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side. Use a document holder placed adjacent to and in the same plane as the computer screen.

Key Objects

Keep key objects such as your telephone, stapler or printed materials close to your body to minimize reaching. Stand up to reach anything that cannot be comfortably reached while sitting. If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.

Laboratory Ergonomics

Laboratory employees and students are at risk for repetitive motion injuries during routine laboratory procedures such as pipetting, working at microscopes, operating microtomes, and using cell counters. Repetitive motion injuries develop over time and occur when muscles and joints are stressed, tendons are inflamed, and nerves are pinched and blood flow is restricted. Working in awkward positions in laboratory fume hoods and biosafety cabinets can also present ergonomic problems.

Body Posture

Poor posture may lead to pain and cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs). Use the following ergonomic tips to avoid ergonomic-related risk factors:

  • Use a laboratory chair that provides good back support.
  • Sit against the back of the chair, not on the edge.
  • Lower the chair or adjust the foot ring or get a footrest.
  • Tilt the seat forward or use a seat wedge when working in a forward posture.
  • Adjust the position of work, work surface, and the chair so that you sit in an upright, supported position.
  • Always try to work at a bench cut out (cut-outs can help to get close to the work while sitting against the back of your chair).
  • Use supportive shoes and cushioned mats if required to stand for long periods.
  • Keep frequently used trays and supplies within close reach.

Arms and Hands

  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your sides when working. Avoid reaching to use instruments and work materials.
  • Maintain neutral wrist and arm postures when working; work with your wrists in a neutral or straight position as if you were shaking hands with someone.
  • Avoid repetitive or forceful twisting and turning motions (e.g., opening valves or adjusting microscopes).
  • Select equipment and tools that are the right size for your hands.
  • Use thin, flexible gloves that fit properly.

Avoid Static Positions

  • You should vary activities, change your position, and take short breaks every 20 minutes to rest muscles and increase blood circulation.
  • Shift your weight often when standing to work. Use a stool or shelf to prop up a foot to relieve pressure on your back.
  • Alternate how you hold objects like forceps. To vary the task, you can alternate holding with the thumb and index finger, and with the index and middle fingers.

Pipetting

  • Elevate chair rather than reaching up to pipette.
  • Do not twist or rotate your wrist while pipetting.
  • Alternate hands or use both hands to pipette.
  • Hold the pipette with a relaxed grip.
  • Use electronic pipettes or light touch models whenever possible.
  • Use minimal pressure while pipetting.
  • Use a light amount of force or two hands to change tips.
  • Use low profile tubes, solution containers and waste receptacles.
  • Select a lightweight pipette, properly sized for your hand.
  • Use pipettes with finger aspirators and thumb dispensers to reduce thumb strain.
  • Use latch-mode or electronic pipettes for repetitive pipetting.
  • Take a 1-2 minute break after every 20 minutes of pipetting.

Using a Microscope

  • Sit close to the work surface.
  • Avoid leaning on hard edges.
  • Pad forearms and edges.
  • Keep elbows close to your sides.
  • Adjust chair, workbench, or microscope as needed to maintain an upright head position.
  • Elevate, tilt or move the microscope close to the edge of the counter to avoid bending your neck.
  • Use adjustable eyepieces or mount your microscope on a 30° angle stand for easier viewing.
  • Keep scopes repaired and clean.
  • Spread microscope work throughout the day and share it with several people, if possible.
  • Take short breaks. Every 15 minutes, close the eyes or focus on something in the distance. Every 30-60 minutes, get up to stretch and move.

Using Fume Hoods and Biosafety Cabinets

  • Remove unnecessary supplies from the work area.
  • Perform all work 6 inches inside the hood.
  • Position work supplies in your order of use, with those most frequently used near the front of the hood, but no closer than 6 inches from the face of the hood.
  • Place equipment on approved elevated turntables for easy retrieval.
  • Use diffused lighting to limit glare.
  • Take short breaks to stretch muscles and relieve forearm and wrist pressure.
  • Adjust laboratory chair or stool to a height that allows the shoulders to relax.

Using a computer in the laboratory

  • Use adjustable keyboard platforms under lab benches that accommodate the use of the mouse beside the keyboard.
  • Where possible, position computer workstations in corners or other areas away from doors, entrances, and passageways.
  • Take mini-breaks of 3 to 5 minutes for every 20- 30 minutes of keyboarding or mouse work. These breaks can be spent doing mild hand exercises or stretches.
  • Do not switch from computer keyboarding to pipetting activities (or vice versa) without an adequate break (at least 15 minutes) to allow the hands to recover.

Further information

Berkley Laboratory Ergonomics

Enviance Ergonomics Reference

Spending your workday sitting at your computer, standing in a lab or lifting heavy objects, performing day-to-day movements and repetitive actions can lead to a number of physical issues, from persistent muscle aches, tendon inflammation, and subsequent disability that in some cases may be permanent.

Resources for Ergonomic Support

Ergonomic Self-Assessment

If you are having trouble with your workspace, the ergonomic self-assessment tool is a great place to start. This training module will help you to adjust your workstation accordingly based on your responses. The results of your self-evaluation will be automatically sent to the Industrial Hygiene Program and be classified by risk level.

Complete the Ergonomic Self-Assessment

EHS Ergonomic Evaluation

If you would like an in-person evaluation after taking the self-assessment, you can submit a request via the EHS Ergonomic Evaluation website for further assistance.  A member of the Ergonomics Team will reach out to you within a few business days.

Request an Ergonomic Evaluation

Ergonomics and MSDs

The goal of ergonomics is to prevent injuries and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, and awkward posture. To create an ergonomically sound work environment, it is recommended to design workspaces to fit your physical capabilities and limitations.

Work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2013, MSD cases accounted for 33% of all worker injury and illness cases.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) affect the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons. Employees and students can be exposed to risk factors at work, such as:

  • lifting heavy items
  • bending
  • reaching overhead
  • pushing and pulling heavy loads
  • working in awkward body postures
  • performing repetitive tasks

Exposure to these known risk factors for MSDs increases a worker’s risk of injury. Work-related MSDs can be prevented by fitting a job to a person. It can help lessen muscle fatigue, increased productivity and reduce the severity of work-related MSDs. Common musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist)
  • Tendinitis
  • Rotator cuff injuries (shoulder)
  • Epicondylitis (elbow)
  • Trigger finger
  • muscle strains
  • low back injuries

Office Ergonomics

If you sit at a desk or work with your computer for hours, you are potentially at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. Proper office ergonomics can help you stay comfortable and safe at work. At your workstation, you should consider the following components.

Chair

Choose a chair that supports your spinal curves. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Adjust armrests so your arms gently rest on them with your shoulders relaxed.

Desk

Under the desk, make sure there is enough clearance for your knees, thighs, and feet. If the desk is too low and cannot be adjusted, place sturdy boards or blocks under the desk legs. If the desk is too high and cannot be adjusted, raise your chair. If your desk has a hard edge, pad the edge or use a wrist rest. Do not store items under your desk.

Footrest

Use a footrest if your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor or the height of your desk requires you to raise the height of your chair. If a footrest is not available, try using a small stool or a stack of sturdy books instead.

Keyboard and Mouse

Place your mouse within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the sensitivity of the mouse so you can use a light touch to operate it.

Monitor

Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm’s length away (between 18 and 30 inches). The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. This allows the eyes to gravitate naturally toward the center of the screen. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side. Use a document holder placed adjacent to and in the same plane as the computer screen.

Key Objects

Keep key objects such as your telephone, stapler or printed materials close to your body to minimize reaching. Stand up to reach anything that cannot be comfortably reached while sitting. If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.

Laboratory Ergonomics

Laboratory employees and students are at risk for repetitive motion injuries during routine laboratory procedures such as pipetting, working at microscopes, operating microtomes, and using cell counters. Repetitive motion injuries develop over time and occur when muscles and joints are stressed, tendons are inflamed, and nerves are pinched and blood flow is restricted. Working in awkward positions in laboratory fume hoods and biosafety cabinets can also present ergonomic problems.

Body Posture

Poor posture may lead to pain and cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs). Use the following ergonomic tips to avoid ergonomic-related risk factors:

  • Use a laboratory chair that provides good back support.
  • Sit against the back of the chair, not on the edge.
  • Lower the chair or adjust the foot ring or get a footrest.
  • Tilt the seat forward or use a seat wedge when working in a forward posture.
  • Adjust the position of work, work surface, and the chair so that you sit in an upright, supported position.
  • Always try to work at a bench cut out (cut-outs can help to get close to the work while sitting against the back of your chair).
  • Use supportive shoes and cushioned mats if required to stand for long periods.
  • Keep frequently used trays and supplies within close reach.

Arms and Hands

  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your sides when working. Avoid reaching to use instruments and work materials.
  • Maintain neutral wrist and arm postures when working; work with your wrists in a neutral or straight position as if you were shaking hands with someone.
  • Avoid repetitive or forceful twisting and turning motions (e.g., opening valves or adjusting microscopes).
  • Select equipment and tools that are the right size for your hands.
  • Use thin, flexible gloves that fit properly.

Avoid Static Positions

  • You should vary activities, change your position, and take short breaks every 20 minutes to rest muscles and increase blood circulation.
  • Shift your weight often when standing to work. Use a stool or shelf to prop up a foot to relieve pressure on your back.
  • Alternate how you hold objects like forceps. To vary the task, you can alternate holding with the thumb and index finger, and with the index and middle fingers.

Pipetting

  • Elevate chair rather than reaching up to pipette.
  • Do not twist or rotate your wrist while pipetting.
  • Alternate hands or use both hands to pipette.
  • Hold the pipette with a relaxed grip.
  • Use electronic pipettes or light touch models whenever possible.
  • Use minimal pressure while pipetting.
  • Use a light amount of force or two hands to change tips.
  • Use low profile tubes, solution containers and waste receptacles.
  • Select a lightweight pipette, properly sized for your hand.
  • Use pipettes with finger aspirators and thumb dispensers to reduce thumb strain.
  • Use latch-mode or electronic pipettes for repetitive pipetting.
  • Take a 1-2 minute break after every 20 minutes of pipetting.

Using a Microscope

  • Sit close to the work surface.
  • Avoid leaning on hard edges.
  • Pad forearms and edges.
  • Keep elbows close to your sides.
  • Adjust chair, workbench, or microscope as needed to maintain an upright head position.
  • Elevate, tilt or move the microscope close to the edge of the counter to avoid bending your neck.
  • Use adjustable eyepieces or mount your microscope on a 30° angle stand for easier viewing.
  • Keep scopes repaired and clean.
  • Spread microscope work throughout the day and share it with several people, if possible.
  • Take short breaks. Every 15 minutes, close the eyes or focus on something in the distance. Every 30-60 minutes, get up to stretch and move.

Using Fume Hoods and Biosafety Cabinets

  • Remove unnecessary supplies from the work area.
  • Perform all work 6 inches inside the hood.
  • Position work supplies in your order of use, with those most frequently used near the front of the hood, but no closer than 6 inches from the face of the hood.
  • Place equipment on approved elevated turntables for easy retrieval.
  • Use diffused lighting to limit glare.
  • Take short breaks to stretch muscles and relieve forearm and wrist pressure.
  • Adjust laboratory chair or stool to a height that allows the shoulders to relax.

Using a computer in the laboratory

  • Use adjustable keyboard platforms under lab benches that accommodate the use of the mouse beside the keyboard.
  • Where possible, position computer workstations in corners or other areas away from doors, entrances, and passageways.
  • Take mini-breaks of 3 to 5 minutes for every 20- 30 minutes of keyboarding or mouse work. These breaks can be spent doing mild hand exercises or stretches.
  • Do not switch from computer keyboarding to pipetting activities (or vice versa) without an adequate break (at least 15 minutes) to allow the hands to recover.

Further information

Berkley Laboratory Ergonomics

Enviance Ergonomics Reference