Reducing Repetitive Strain Injuries in Microbiology Quality Control Labs
How small, inexpensive changes to lab equipment and disposables leads to improved productivity
September 16, 2021
It may come as a surprise to learn that lab workers, including researchers and technicians, are in a relatively high-risk group for repetitive strain injury (RSI). This injury can lead to loss of productivity, loss of earnings, and reduced morale and accounts for almost a third of all non-fatal work-related injuries. (1,2)
RSI is a particular problem in laboratory environments where the same procedures are carried out on a daily basis, including areas such as quality control, and routine testing labs where the same prescribed protocols are being applied every day to potentially large numbers of samples. This routine inevitably leads to the same manual manipulations repeatedly occurring, with activities such as pipetting, opening and closing micro-tube lids, applying or writing labels, and manipulating filtration devices all placing high on the list of offending tasks. The operator is required to perform the same dexterous task over and over again, day after day.
Repetitive Strain Injury can be addressed with simple solutions
A simple and inexpensive switch to ergonomically designed equipment and consumables can have a far-reaching impact on the causes of RSI in the laboratory setting. For Microbiology Quality Control labs in particular, where filtration plays a large part in the Quality Control (QC) protocols, choice of filtration consumables can have a significant impact on the strain felt by operators. Choosing the right filter funnels can mitigate can mitigate the strain on lab technicians and other operators.
Even within filter funnels, there are options to further reduce the strain on operators, the Pall MicroFunnel™ filter funnel for instance, has been purpose-designed for ease-of-use. While almost all other filter funnels on the market require the operator to twist the funnel to remove, an act that places lateral strain on the operator's wrist, the MicroFunnel filter funnel requires only a simple squeezing action to separate the funnel from its base. This squeeze action is much kinder on the operator’s body, especially if the action needs to be repeated many times each day, as is often the case in a microbiology quality control environment.
Fig 1. Pall’sMicroFunnel filter funnel is inserted and removed with a simple, ergonomic ‘squeeze’ action.
In addition, the Pall Laboratory Manifold is designed with simple, pull-apart friction fittings, enabling the manifold to be disassembled easily without tools and without manual manipulations, such as unscrewing, that create stress on the hand and wrist. As the manifold typically needs to be disassembled on a daily basis for cleaning, this change, although small, quickly adds up to a significant reduction of repetitive straining activities. Additionally, since the end cap and hose barb can be set up in either orientation, the valves can always be situated at the front of the manifold. This means easy access for tubing and vacuum connection. From a throughput and flexibility perspective, it is also possible to connect two of the manifolds together, creating up to six sample processing stations at once.
The stresses and strains that lead to RSI are by their very nature, minor. Do an action once or twice and the inconvenience or discomfort is barely noticeable. It is only when we ask an operator to perform these same tasks repeatedly for weeks at a time that these small problems start to make their presence felt. In the same way, the solutions to RSI in the microbiology quality control environment may seem small, but added together they can lead to a happier, healthier workforce and to greater productivity, reduced cost and less time lost through illness for the QC group and ultimately for the company as a whole. While small, these changes can have a real and positive impact on the bottom line which is good for everyone.
For more information on avoiding repetitive strain injury in the lab, and additional Pall products that have been ergonomically designed to reduce RSI, take a look at the application note: Reducing Repetitive Stress Injury and Improving Ergonomics in Microbiology Quality Control Procedures
1 Unison.org.uk. 2017. Unison Health and Safety Seminar, Edinburgh [online] Available at: https://www.unison.org.uk/content/uploads/2017/04/GoHS-MSDs.pdf [Accessed 19 August 2021].
2 United States Department of Labor. 2016. NONFATAL OCCUPATIONAL INJURIES AND ILLNESSES REQUIRING DAYS AWAY FROM WORK, 2015. [online] Available at: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/osh2.nr0.htm [Accessed 19 August 2021].