Ergonomics: Using a Microscope can be Hazardous to your Health!

People who use microscopes have been asking those who design them to make them more suitable for human use ever since that first user sat down at one and tried to spend an entire workday peering through the eyepiece. Some of these requests have taken the form of articles presented in public-domain publications concerning the adverse health impact of operating these tools throughout a career. The excerpts below are just the tip of the iceberg.

  1. "The best position for microscopical observations is when the observer is lying horizontally on his back. The worst of all positions is that in which we look downwards vertically."
    Treatise On Optics, Second American Edition - Philadelphia, 1835, Sir David Brewster

  2. "The principles of industrial design have long been established, and it is axiomatic that tools should be adapted to people and not vice versa. In addition, microscopy is a skill that could readily be practised by many handicapped people if instruments could be made to suit their special requirements, such as mounting on wheel chairs."
    The International Academy of Cytology, Reference 25:195-196, 1981, Letters to the Editor
    Max Robinowitz, M.D., Gunther F. Bahr, M.D. F.I.A.C., Cecil H. Fox, Ph.D. (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)

  3. "Soderberg, et al. (1980) also revealed that 84 percent of microscopists had job related musculoskeletal pain."
    Proceedings of the Human Factors Society - 29th Annual Meeting - 1985
    Article: "Physical Stress Reduction of Microscope Operators" by Kwan S. Lee and Linda A. Humphreys

  4. "A study by Helander and Prabhu (1987) reported an OSHA injury rate of 19 for a sample of microscope operators."
    (note: OSHA rate of 19 means that 19% of employees missed work during the year as a result of on-the-job injury.)
    Applied Ergonomics 1991 - 22.1, 36-42
    Article: "Planning and Implementation of Microscope Work" by M.G. Helander, E.J. Grossmith and P. Prabhu.

  5. "When one considers physical discomfort as an adjunct to low salaries it becomes increasingly apparent why there is a high incidence of "drop-out" at the fifth through tenth year of practice among cytotechnologists."
    ASCT News (American Society for Cytotechnology) Number 3, 1990
    Article: "The Scoop on Scopes" by Roberta M Goodell, Editor.

  6. "For example, in their study of a major U.S. Company, Emmanuel and Glonek found that 80 percent of microscopists experienced headaches or neck aches and 75 percent complained of eye strain."
    USA Microscopy & Analysis, July 1993
    Article: "Applying Ergonomics to Improve Microscopy Work" by Helen Haines and Lynn McAtamney

  7. "The top candidates in the fab for work-related injuries are maintenance technicians, microscope technicians, and material handlers." Don Lassiter, a consultant on occupational safety and health issues for the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), recommends microscopes with computer monitors and microscopes designed to improve ergonomics for routine inspection tasks.
    (note: the semiconductor industry employs 200,000 in the U.S. with an injury rate of 4.0 per hundred in 1993.)
    Research & Development, June 1995, feature article -- "Fabs Strain to Prevent Work- Related Injuries" by Don Lassiter
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