Investing in Ergonomically Designed Microscope Workplaces Pays Off

"It's Important to Gain Awareness for Ergonomic Behavior"

September 06, 2013

To do their best at work, people have to have a feeling of physical wellbeing: they are more attentive and motivated and more productive for longer periods of time. As ergonomically designed workplaces are conducive to physical wellbeing, ergonomics makes a direct contribution to the operating result, reducing sick days and enhancing productivity. So the expenditure for ergonomic accessories is offset by potential savings and a productivity increase. When it comes to investing in ergonomic accessories, decision-makers need more than common sense – they need statistics. John Ludescher, physiotherapist in Röthis, Austria, provides information on the subject. (Photo: © istockphoto.com/MicroWorks)

John Ludescher, physiotherapist

Mr. Ludescher, does work damage your health?

I wouldn’t say that in general, particularly as potential health impact factors at the workplace vary from industry to industry.

What are the typical aches and pains suffered by microscope users?

Microscope work is a sedentary occupation with little freedom of movement. Microscopists often suffer from pain and tension in their neck and shoulders, they get backache and may have problems with their wrists, knees and ankles. Eye fatigue may be an issue, too.

How many people would you say are affected?

It’s hard to give an exact figure. Most of the problems I mentioned are classified under musculoskeletal disorders. As far back as 2003, the world health organization WHO identified musculoskeletal disorders as one of the main reasons why people stay off work – i.e. report sick. The WHO points out that musculoskeletal disorders lead to high costs for healthcare systems.  

That’s quite a difference.

Yes – and the situation in other industrialized countries is no doubt similar. Health problems reflect this development. The Federal Statistical Office of Germany ascertained in 2009 that 6.3 per cent of the working population had said they suffered from work-related health problems in the year 2007. Three quarters of the complaints were due to bone, joint and muscle problems. 

That was 2007 – what’s the situation today?

These results are now a few years old, of course, but there is evidence to suggest a continuing trend in this direction. For instance, a German health insurer, Barmer GEK, conducts a client-based survey that includes a breakdown of diagnoses of Barmer clients whose treatment required a stay in hospital. In 2009, 14.9 per cent of male clients and 20.9 per cent of female clients were hospitalized because of disorders of the musculoskeletal system and connective tissue. In 2012, the figures were 18.1 per cent and 23.8 per cent, respectively. So there has been a slight increase.

What advice can you give to decision-makers thinking of investing in ergonomic workplace equipment?

Basically, it’s important to gain awareness for ergonomic behavior. This includes knowing the potential of the available instrumentation and making use of it. Often, the microscope can be optimized by using a different tube or eyepiece; then you have made a change for the better. It’s a good idea to try it out with a group of test persons and a control group – say, five to ten people in each group – and then compare.

In my experience, most employees only notice the symptoms – few of them are confident and innovative enough to change something. Decision-makers should talk to their employees to get a feeling for what they perceive to be uncomfortable. Actually, it’s often easy to spot – for example when employees have wedged phone directories under their computer screen or microscope.

Video "Ergonomic microscope in the workplace"

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