Improved ergonomics through smart interior design

A researcher’s workspace and work environment can positively or negatively affect their personal well-being. In turn, the research they collect can be inadvertently corrupted or inaccurate when fatigued or distracted. Protect researchers and personnel from injury and stress caused by their ergonomic interaction with workbenches, workstations, task chairs, stools, fabrication tables, carts, lighting, etc. is the very essence of proactive and efficient ergonomics.

Ergonomics is the study of how people systematically interact with their habitat or environment. This environment must foster collaboration, innovation and improve their overall performance.

Designers: put themselves in the place of the researcher (and spaces)

No matter how savvy an interior designer’s ergonomic design is, if it’s not inspired by feedback from real users (researchers and staff), its value is limited. Designers should meet with scientists and other user groups early on, long before pen hits paper in pre-design, to intimately observe and understand workers’ daily tasks, journeys, and overall workflow of laboratory. Without this detailed understanding, any design produced will lack the very essence of successful ergonomics. Without seeing and knowing exactly how and where the inhabitants of the laboratory operate and when, the chances of any design focusing on ergonomics will be insufficient.

Sharing information about daily tasks performed in, to, and from the lab space is a vital conversation that designers and scientists need to have early in the process. Discussions about what works and what doesn’t in existing lab space, potential workplace hazards, inefficiencies, and space requirements should all be part of a two-way discussion between those who will design the lab and those who will use it. This dialogue should also include suggestions on how day-to-day lab-centric tasks could be performed more efficiently and productively. At this stage, designers and engineers can present research and data from past lab design projects, articulating lessons learned and providing innovative solutions that can positively impact lab ergonomic design.

Design inspired by ergonomics

Beyond aligning a task with a person, rather than the other way around, an effective ergonomic strategy reduces fatigue and prevents injury while improving productivity, safety and job satisfaction. A successful ergonomic design will keep lab occupants comfortable, allow them to work efficiently, and promote physical and mental health and happiness.

How can ergonomic laboratory design contribute to the long-term productivity and well-being of researchers and allow employers to retain their best scientists? It is the result of a visual and functional strategy that supports the way the occupants of the laboratory work or the optimal way they would like to function in their space.

In short, successful ergonomics allows researchers to focus throughout the workday on discovery, without the distractions of inefficiencies and space limitations. Here is an overview of the aspects to recognize in the design of the space:

Specify appropriate materials and furnishings

Lab furniture manufacturers play a crucial role in any successful lab design or redesign effort. Selecting a shortlist of quality manufacturers of lab workstations, benches, fabrication tables, carts and lighting makes the difference between successful design and inefficiently designed spaces that only reach not user goals. It is essential to work with forward-thinking manufacturers who understand the importance of safety and productivity in their own designs. Manufacturers who master increasingly complex supply chain hurdles can ensure the project comes to fruition on time.

Identifying the appropriate materials on the surfaces of ergonomic laboratory furniture is another crucial facet of ergonomic laboratory design that designers and users alike need to master. Chemical, friction and impact resistant antimicrobial materials are required. Bolder colors in strategic areas of the lab to boost stimulation and attention are essential, as are materials that provide the appropriate degree of acoustics.

See the (natural) light

Evidence1 proves that natural light, or daylight, is good for the well-being of staff members. Today’s laboratories are designed with views to the outdoors rather than being located inside the building. Natural lighting not only saves energy, it also provides a working environment that stimulates creativity and innovation. Daylighting can also aid in staff recruitment and retention.

Lighting levels are also extremely important in an ergonomically inspired design. Providing appropriate dimming capabilities and color temperatures for researchers helps reduce eye strain from long hours in the lab.

Design and specify furniture and equipment at hand

Height-adjustable benches and workspaces allow easy access and an ergonomic approach to tools and tasks. Case work that promotes healthy reach heights is also a must when it comes to lab design. It is essential to provide adjustable seats for multiple tasks and positions. Organizing workstations for proper circulation and flow throughout the space contributes to successful laboratory design with ergonomics in mind. The layout of the laboratory should promote collaboration between staff members while allowing easy access to amenities.

Examples of forward-facing ergonomic laboratory safety design layouts are chairs that provide good back support, easily adjust to workstation height, and allow forward tilting if needed.

BSA Living Structures

Create a safety-inspired ergonomic design that reduces injuries

According to OSHA, there are many ergonomic risk factors that cause wear and tear on the body and can potentially cause injury. These include repetition, awkward posture, forceful movements, stationary position, direct pressure, vibration, temperature extremes, noise and work stress. To counter these risk factors, the design should allow for and support task rotation, warm-up stretches and stretch breaks, proper reaching, lifting and manipulation techniques, and more.

Examples of such forward ergonomic laboratory safety design arrangements are chairs that provide good back support, easily adjust to workstation height, and allow forward tilting if required; adaptable/adjustable benches and workstations to allow workers to keep their shoulders relaxed and elbows close to their sides while working; arrangement of furniture that discourages repetitive or forceful twisting and turning; workstation padding that softens edges and reduces pressure and force while working; and stools with footrests, if available, to relieve back pressure.

Design a space to attract and retain lab workers

The benefits of creating good ergonomics in laboratory design are numerous. Beyond increased cost savings through reduced worker injuries, fewer workers’ compensation claims, and increased productivity, forward-thinking ergonomic design increases individual and team morale. Employees feel valued because their workplace is safer. Without discomfort, pain or injury as a distraction, safe work environments boost productivity. Better morale and increased safety often lead to overall job satisfaction. Overall job satisfaction results in reduced turnover, which means continuity in the workforce.

Designing a laboratory space that promotes health, productivity, worker satisfaction and morale is an investment in people, process and results. Ergonomics is the science of adapting work environments to the physiological, psychological and cognitive capacities of the worker. Although it is not possible to eliminate workplace hazards, an effective and achievable ergonomic strategy can identify and minimize the researcher’s exposure to them.

References:

1. International Journal of Advances in Chemical Engineering and Biological Sciences (IJACEBS) Vol. 3, issue 1 (2016) ISSN 2349-1507 ISSN 2349-1515; Natural light and productivity: analysis of the effects of daylight on the health and alertness of students and workers.

Abdul J. Gaspar