Ask The Back School: Microscope Ergonomics

Healthcare Ergonomics December 16, 2021

Microscope ergonomics is the topic du jour in our latest inquiry for today’s Ask The Back School. We recently received correspondence for instructor, Marty Frame, asking for advice on selecting a chair for microscopy. Read Dr. Yelina’s question below along with Marty’s response!

microscope ergonomics

Hello, I’d like to address this email to Martha Frame. I am a pathologist and work with microscope full time. I’ve read your blog about pathologists’ ergonomics – very useful! I’m looking for a new high quality chair, ideally with a good adjustable back support as it’s main feature. We in the Department have tried different kinds, but have found nothing that really helps with our very stationary work posture… Would you please recommend some chairs that you think might help in our situation? Thank you very much in advance! Dr. Yelena

And here we have our response from Back School instructor Marty Frame:

Dear Dr. Yelina: Thank you for your question regarding an appropriate ergonomic chair for pathology work.  From my experience, the major features to look for in a chair for pathologists are a seat pan which tilts forward and a high back chair. Since all the work looking through the microscope is forward, a seat pan that tilts forward will allow the chair’s backrest to  be supportive in this position.  A high back chair with help to support the thoracic spine.  The Herman  Miller Aeron and Mirra chairs have these features.  There are other chairs as well, but I am most familiar with the Herman Miller chair as this was the brand used by the hospital system  where I was  the consultant.  Be aware that when you tilt the seat pan forward, some folks report a feeling of sliding forward in the chair.  This can be minimized with a fabric rather than vinyl surface, if this is permitted in your work area. For sanitary purposes, I know some labs don’t allow fabric surface chairs, but they may be allowed in private offices. 

Also there are other considerations when looking to decrease the static holding of the back musculature.  First consider eyepiece extenders/eye tubes. This will allow the head neck to be in a more neutral posture and decrease cervical and thoracic muscle activity.  Also use of forearm supports will help take the weight of the upper body off the spine and decrease muscle activity. Lastly, consider an adjustable height workstation which will allow you to move between sitting and standing.  Because of the weight of the microscope, you will need an electric adjustable desk surface.  The hydraulic type will generally not support the weight of the microscope nor will units that can be placed on top of a standard desk. 

I hope this helps.

Marty Frame PT, MBA, CEAS III

Have experience or advice when it comes to microscopy? Let us know in the comments below!

One thought

  • Lisa Barday

    Great info, thanks! Aeron and Mirra are excellent chairs however, they are designed for office use and may not be suitable for the rigorous environment of a lab. Forward tilt of a seat pan is a must in a lab environment along with a supportive back with lumbar adjustment and synchronous movement that stays in contact with the user’s back. Chairs designed specifically for labs such as Bimos Lab Seating, also are made of materials that are easy to clean and withstand contact with chemicals and harsh cleaning solutions. They typically have polyurethane (simulated leather) upholstered backs and seats (mesh backs and seats can easily trap harmful pathogens and can be challenging to keep clean) or integral foam (solid foam with no upholstery). There is also a new performance and safety certification for lab seating coming in 2022 from SEFA (Scientific Equipment and Furniture Association) so look for products that are specifically SEFA certified for lab use so you have peace of mind the products you are investing in meet these tough standards.

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