Working in a cold, dark, and noisy lab?
Whether we notice it directly or not, working in a comfortable, ergonomic environment can make a big difference to our daily life. Ergonomics is particularly important in labs, where there are a lot more things to consider compared to offices. Here, we take a look at aspects of ergonomics that are easily overlooked and see how light, noise, temperature, and air quality can contribute to a comfortable workplace.
Whether it’s at home, in the car, the office or the lab – ergonomic considerations are everywhere. Nearly all spaces and appliances we use have been designed with ergonomics in mind. However, in many ways, lab work is different from our other activities. When working in the lab, we often sit or stand in uncomfortable positions doing work that requires a high level of concentration – all of which highlights the need for an ergonomically designed workplace.
When asked about ergonomics, people often think about odd-looking office chairs or maybe the design of pipettes and other commonly used lab equipment. However, product design from a user perspective is just one of the three ‘spheres’ of laboratory ergonomics that make up a comfortable workplace:
The first sphere is the direct interaction between the user and the instrument, e.g. an ergonomically designed lid handle of a PCR cycler. The next range is the personal work space and its organization at the bench. The third sphere describes the workflow and all related more general aspects of the working environment which influence the daily work.
Optimal working environments
Environmental aspects of the laboratory include temperature, lighting, noise, and air quality. These factors are largely determined by the design of the lab itself and to some extent the placement of equipment. Let’s have a look at each of them.
Comfortable lighting in the lab means having the right light intensity, an even distribution of light, and having the right color temperature (a measure of the light’s spectrum). Getting these right means you’ll be able to see clearly without eye strain or discomfort caused by too much, too little or ‘bad’ light.
There are no specific standards for lighting in labs, although there are regional requirements for lighting in indoor workplaces in general, for example the European standard EN 12464-1. These state that light intensity should be between 500 and 1000 lux. Due to the visual nature of lab work it’s better for labs to be towards the higher end, so 750–1000 lux is a good guideline for laboratory lighting.
Just as important for comfortable lighting is its color. This is often talked about in terms of color temperature (in Kelvin, K), but confusingly, lower color temperatures are perceived as ‘warmer’ colors and higher ones as ‘cooler’: A candle has 1,900 K whereas cool white light has 7,000 to 7,500 K.
US government agencies recommend a color temperature between 4,100 and 5,000 K for laboratory lighting.