Forensic Lab Safety: Ergonomic Seating

As work becomes more demanding, additional stress is unavoidable. The physical stresses that can lead to injury, though, can be avoided by ensuring that one’s work environment is ergonomically sound.

That is important to remember in forensic labs and other critical environments, where work can often involve repetitive movement, and technicians frequently remain seated for long periods of time. Injuries can result from repetitive motion, and musculoskeletal disorders can occur due to improper seating and poor posture habits, but they can be prevented through a better understanding of ergonomics.

Ergonomics 101

Ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging items and environments to help ensure that people can interact with them safely and efficiently, and it has long been the focus of seating manufacturers such as BioFit Engineered Products, based in Bowling Green, Ohio. According to BioFit President Ed Metzger, there have been certain constants within the basic principles behind ergonomics. “The ideas of adjustability and good lumbar support are still with us from the days when ergonomic seating was called ‘biomechanical seating,’” says Metzger. “In addition, an effective ergonomic chair will have a ‘waterfall seat’ design, in which the seat curves downward at the front to reduce leg fatigue by ensuring proper circulation.”

As the understanding of ergonomics has evolved, seating manufacturers such as BioFit recognize that ideally, the best seating solutions will perform three basic tasks. Forensic labs should look for seating that minimizes risk, encourages correct posture, and helps ensure high performance among the people using it.

Risk Minimization

Metzger states that risk factors like repetition, force, temperature extremes and vibration can lead to ergonomic problems in the workplace, and minimizing them is essential. The first step is to work within an optimum comfort zone. To illustrate this point, Metzger explained his basic “dinner table” rules.

“Think about the way you set a table—everything should be placed within easy reach and range of motion. That is the way a workstation should be configured,” Metzger said. “It is the best way to avoid undue muscle strain and premature fatigue from overextending. Of the key risk factors in ergonomic injuries, it is important to remember that the chair offers control over posture only. But even if it is not possible to eliminate all risk factors inherent to a given laboratory, manufacturing or research setting, an ergonomically correct chair gives users an advantage by putting them in healthier working positions.”

Proper Posture

That focus on posture has been a primary concern for BioFit, a company that is driven to ensure that their products prevent the kinds of lower back problems that are common among forensic laboratory workers, especially those who work with microscopes throughout the day. “As they bend forward to look at a slide,” Metzger notes, “they put maximum pressure on the spinal discs without even knowing it.” This can lead to a condition called kyphosis, in which the spine is bent out of its natural position.

The key to a healthy lower back, Metzger says, is adjustability. As he puts it, “There is no single good position to create an ergonomic environment. What is truly important is that people are able to adjust their chair often. In doing so, they are able to be in different positions throughout the day instead of being stuck in a static posture for a long period of time.”

Peak Performance

In addition to safety, Metzger explains that ergonomic seating can help maintain user attentiveness, thereby increasing performance. “Facility managers should consider highly adjustable seating units which provide for full lumbar support and forward lean to counterbalance the tendency of users to slouch into poor posture. Other features to look for include a five- star base for stability, a seat that allows for even weight distribution, easy-to use height adjustment, and cushioned, adjustable armrests, when appropriate.”

Ergonomics in the Forensic Lab

The challenge for forensic lab specifiers is to find furnishings that offer ergonomic support and at the same time fulfill the needs of critical environments. BioFit has a number of lab and clean room seating solutions that have been tested all the way to Class 1/ISO 3. Features include an exclusive air exchange system in the seat, which prevents air from escaping into the environment, and seat height adjusters that avert the escape of gas and particles.

In addition, forensic labs will find that BioFit provides furnishings that are resistant to chemicals and bodily fluids. BioFit’s vacuum-formed seating has been engineered to provide outstanding preventive protection with seamless design that minimizes the risk of bacterial and fluid infiltration. In addition, ArmorSeat chairs include a UV inhibitor and antimicrobial properties that make them a great fit for laboratories—or any other environment where bacteria could cause problems.

BioFit in Action: A Case Study

BioFit has provided laboratory seating for some of the most prestigious laboratories in the United States, including Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in New York. When CSHL required seating for 200 researchers working in six buildings throughout their Hillside Campus, they knew that their furnishings would need to meet the demands of staff members, who would spend extended periods sitting at both desks and lab benches. The chairs would also have to stand up to spills from a variety of fluids and chemicals.

CSHL chose BioFit’s EEC-series, which delivers ergonomic performance and long-term reliability along with the clean-room capabilities that are essential to lab environments. According to CSHL Architect and Project Manager Leslie Allen, “BioFit is the industry standard. I’ve been here for over 20 years and we have always used BioFit seating in our labs.” The fact that the chair’s design profile perfectly complemented the architectural beauty of the new facility was certainly a benefit as well.

The Benefits of BioFit

Ergonomically correct chairs might not be the least expensive on the market, but the benefits will prove to be of greater value in the long run by ensuring a safer, healthier and more productive lab environment. It’s important to consider a number of factors in determining which seating solution fits you. BioFit’s commitment to quality extends through its entire line of seating, tables and multipurpose carts. Not only are BioFit products designed to the highest standards of ergonomics, but nearly every product in BioFit’s seating and table lines is rated as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) compliant for use in commercial interiors, qualifying specifiers for LEED building credits. Additionally, BioFit tables are GREENGUARD® Indoor Air Quality and Children & Schools certified for low volatile organic compound emission levels. BioFit’s commitment to quality is guaranteed by an industry-leading 13-year warranty on nearly every product—one of the best in the business—to ensure that customers’ costs remain significantly lower in the long term. In addition, BioFit’s friendly, attentive and highly knowledgeable customer support team is second to none. For more information about the benefits of ergonomics, visit www.biofit.com.

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