Stanford University

Laboratory Ergonomics

Working in a research lab may increase your risk of sustaining a musculoskeletal injury. However, by making simple adjustments to your posture, work practices, and equipment, you can decrease the risk of injury without sacrificing productivity.

Laboratory workstation evaluations

For assistance with your laboratory workstation setup and ergonomic products, call (650) 736-4392.

Stanford has pre-selected a number of items that can assist you in making your laboratory or workbench ergonomics friendly. You can click here to view the catalog of items.

General laboratory workstation guidelines

When working in a lab, the following tips can help lower your risk of injury:

    • Avoid maintaining the same body position (e.g. sitting or standing) for an extended period of time:
      • Take microbreaks of about two minutes every 15 to 30 minutes.
      • Shift your weight around often.
      • Alternate tasks frequently.
    • Avoid awkward body postures.
    • Avoid resting arms on sharp table edges. Pad table edges with foam, or use a cushion.

  1. Before working, always adjust your chair properly. Here are some guidelines:

    • Your feet should rest comfortably on the floor or footrest.
    • Sit all the way back. The chair should provide adequate back support.
    • The front edge of the chair should not press against the back of the knees.
    • Armrests should not hinder your work activities.
    • Remove items from under your workstation to provide legroom.

  1. If standing for a long time, use the following tips:

    • Rest one foot on a step stool. Alternate feet regularly.
    • Wear low-heeled shoes with good cushioning. Floor mats with cushioning can provide additional comfort.

    • Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows by your sides. Place frequently used items close to your body to avoid excessive reaching.
    • Avoid raising your elbows higher than shoulder level. Use ladders and stools to reach for items on high shelves.

    • Take frequent microbreaks (about one to two minutes every 15 to 30 minutes). Switch activities to avoid long periods of continuous pipetting.
    • Maintain straight wrists. Keep elbows close to your body.
    • Alternate pipetting between right and left hands. Rotate pipetting tasks with other qualified lab colleagues.
    • Keep waste bins, beakers, and other frequently used items as close to you as possible.
    • Maintain a relaxed grip on the pipette.
    • Use shorter pipettes and pipette tips when possible.
    • Choose pipettes that require minimal hand and finger effort.
    • Use automated processes or multi-channel pipettes for highly repetitive jobs.
    • See posture, seating, and standing tips in other tabs.

Test Tube Handling
    • Take frequent microbreaks (about one to two minutes every 15 to 30 minutes).
    • Maintain straight wrists. Keep elbows close to your body.
    • Alternate handling test tubes between right and left hands.
    • Arrange the tubes to minimize reaching and twisting.
    • Open tubes with both hands.
    • Use upside-down containers to raise test tube racks (as necessary).
    • Use a vortexer mixer rack instead of holding tubes by hand.
    • Use cap removers to minimize pinch gripping.
    • See posture, seating, and standing tips in other tabs.

Microscope Use
    • Take frequent microbreaks (about one to two minutes every 15 to 30 minutes) to rest your eyes.
    • Momentarily close eyes or refocus on distant objects to vary focal distance.
    • Divide microscope work throughout the day or rotate tasks with colleagues.
    • Maintain straight wrists. Keep elbows close to your body.
    • Avoid tilting your head and neck, by, for example:
      • Adjusting the microscope’s position so that you’re in an upright and neutral posture.
      • Moving the microscope to the edge of the counter to avoid tilting your neck.
    • Keep microscopes clean and in good condition.
    • See posture, seating, and standing tips in other tabs.

Laboratory Hoods and Safety Cabinets
    • Position materials and equipment in lab hoods and cabinets as close to your body as possible, but at least six inches into the hood (for safety reasons).
    • Avoid resting arms on the sharp edges of hoods. Use padding if possible and take frequent microbreaks (about one to two minutes every 15 to 30 minutes).
    • See posture, seating, and standing tips in other tabs.

Other Laboratory Tasks
    • Take frequent microbreaks (about one to minutes every 15 to 30 minutes).
    • Avoid pinch gripping whenever possible. Learn to pinch between the index and middle finger.
    • Share the workload between your right and left hands.
    • Choose the right equipment for the job and know how to use it properly.
    • Ensure all tools are in proper working order.
    • Whenever possible, increase the size of tool handles to minimize gripping effort.
    • Use automated processes to reduce repetition and strain.

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