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Basic Microscope Ergonomics

Although conventional microscope design has not necessarily been a problem for short-term use, long-term sessions have historically created problems for scientists and technicians who used the instruments, making them, quite literally, a pain in the neck. Microscopists were expected to suffer for the greater good of science and many have paid the price over the years with physical discomfort and sometimes even permanent injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), in the United States Department of Labor, finds that "Microscope work is straining both to the visual system and the musculoskeletal system. Operators are forced into an unusual exacting position, with little possibility to move the head or the body. They are often forced to assume an awkward work posture such as the head bent over the eye tubes, the upper part of the body bent forward, the hand reaching high up for a focusing control, or with the wrists bent in an unnatural position."

Introduction to Microscope Ergonomics - Once an exotic and esoteric piece of scientific equipment, during the twentieth century microscopes became commonplace in geological, biological, and medical laboratories and in factories manufacturing electronic components and integrated circuits for computers and the consumer electronics industry. As microscope use grew, so did concerns about usability. During the 1980s and 1990s, microscope manufacturers began introducing ergonomic features into their instruments to make them safer and more comfortable to use for extended periods of time (up to six or eight hours a day).

Interactive Java Tutorials

Proper Microscope Observation Posture - In order to view specimens and record data, microscope operators must assume an unusual but exacting position, with little possibility to move the head or the body. They are often forced to assume an awkward work posture such as the head bent over the eye tubes, the upper part of the body bent forward, the hand reaching high up for a focusing control, or with the wrists bent in an unnatural position. This tutorial explores proper posture for microscope observations and demonstrates how new ergonomic microscope designs can lead to a reduction of associated musculoskeletal disorders.

Ergonomic Eyepiece Observation Tubes - Eyepiece observation tube height is an important factor that must be seriously considered in the ergonomic design of microscope components and accessories. This tutorial explores the range of currently available ergonomic observation tubes and their extended range of motion, which enables operators of all sizes and heights to comfortably view specimens for lengthy periods of time.

Automatic Objective Changeover - The ergonomic design of stress free microscopes that are easy to operate is a primary goal for all of the manufacturers. This interactive tutorial examines the automatic objective changeover design in clinical microscopes, a feature that is quickly performed with a foot or hand switch to reduce the frequency of repetitive hand motion and ease operator discomfort.

Selected Literature References

Microscope Ergonomics References - A number of excellent books, review articles, and original research reports on microscope ergonomics have been published by leading researchers in the field, and were utilized as references to prepare the ergonomics discussions included in the microscopy primer. In particular, articles focused on repetitive stress injury and cumulative trauma disorder have carefully reviewed ergonomic aspects of microscope and workstation design.

Contributing Authors

Matthew J. Parry-Hill, Robert T. Sutter, Kathleen E. Carr, Thomas J. Fellers, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.


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