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How to Turn Microscope Workplaces Ergonomic

"The microscope needs to adapt to the user, not vice versa" – Interview with Clinton Smith

Microscopes are tools that affect those who work with them every day. They can be highly demanding for the human body, requiring concentration and a lot of steady activity from many of our muscles.

In this interview, Clinton Smith, Senior Product Manager at Leica Microsystems, talks about how to relieve possible tension and strain and how to create ergonomic workplaces to help microscope users work in comfort and how to increase productivity.

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What can happen if people work with microscopes regularly for a long period of time?

Microscopes are demanding when it comes to the working posture. Observing samples requires full concentration and looking through the eyepieces usually involves inclining the head and back, so that one’s eyes, neck, shoulders are properly positioned. This can, in some cases, cause the operator to suffer from strain. Once a microscope user feels physical discomfort, he or she may try to avoid a certain posture, even adding further to the strain – a vicious circle.

Also the knees and feet may be affected, even jaw joints may ache due to grinding of teeth from tension, or headaches can occur. This is especially true if microscope users spend a long periods of time using a microscope.  If these issues are not addressed over an extended period can lead to serious health issues.

How can microscope users and employers counteract these health hazards? What do you as a manufacturer of microscopes do to help microscope users work in comfort?

The microscope needs to adapt to the user, not vice versa. This is why we do not only offer microscopes, but also options to adapt these microscopes to different users. For our stereo microscopes, for example, we offer ErgoTubes and ErgoModules so that the height of the microscope, the viewing height, and the viewing angle can be adapted. This enables people of different height and physique to sit or stand upright while working.

But microscopes are only one part of the workplace. Tables or workbenches as well as chairs play a big role as well. Chairs and tables need to adapt to the users as well – they are the course the major modifications, while the ergonomics accessories of the microscopes cover the fine tuning of the system.

How should an ideal microscope workplace look?

The table and chair should be adjustable, so that users can sit in a relaxed, in an upright position. To reduce tension of the spine, a lumbar support often helps. Over all microscope height, viewing height, and viewing angle should be adjustable so that even with changing operators, the microscope can be perfectly adapted to the individual user.

How do you support your customers in creating ergonomic workplaces?

The first step would be a visit. We take a look at the area in which the microscopes will be used and consult the customer about possible solutions. This involves finding out what tasks will be accomplished with the microscopes and to figure out which microscope works best for this task. Digital microscopes, for example, can be an alternative to traditional stereo microscopes – which may help, since microscopes without eyepieces, but with a monitor, are inherently more ergonomic than microscopes with eyepieces.

We also ask how long people work with the microscopes. Do they have other tasks to do as well? How frequently do they change posture or walk around – all this has in influence on what works best for the respective users.

In which cases do you recommend digital microscopes?

The trend towards building an ergonomic microscope system has increased over the last years. Musculoskeletal disorders are frequent reasons for employee absences. Ergonomic accessories are an easy and economical way to help reduce these absences, so that the investment pays off very quickly.

It also helps that the benefits of working in comfort are noticeable. Everybody knows how distracting it is to work with a headache or on a workspace which is too low – managers can relate to this and also know that the quality of the work suffers automatically.  If people are being forced to work in an uncomfortable position, they cannot fully concentrate on their work.

How eager do your customers invest in ergonomic accessories?

The trend towards building an ergonomic microscope system has increased over the last years. Musculoskeletal disorders are frequent reasons for employee absences. Ergonomic accessories are an easy and economical way to help reduce these absences, so that the investment pays off very quickly.

It also helps that the benefits of working in comfort are noticeable. Everybody knows how distracting it is to work with a headache or on a workspace which is too low – managers can relate to this and also know that the quality of the work suffers automatically. If people are being forced to work in an uncomfortable position, they cannot fully concentrate on their work.

Video: How do I reach the optimal working position?

This video will guide you through the process and alert you to crucial points.

Video: Accessories for an ergonomic workplace

Every person is different – that's why microscope workstations need to be adapted to their users. An optimal sitting position is the basis for a comfortable posture. An adaptable viewing height ensures the shoulder and neck muscles are not strained. This video shows how Leica Microsystems' ErgoTubes and ErgoModules help with these adjustments.

Video: Increase your productivity

Ergonomic design of the workplace will help people work with microscopes in a correct posture. They will be better able to focus on their tasks and execute their work more natural, relaxed position. This video shows how people will profit from making the instrument fit the worker.