Electrophoresis Lab Ergonomic Recommendation

Backgound

The electrophoresis room is located inside Cornell Diagnostic Lab, which is part of the College of Veterinary Medicine. This project is focused on this room to optimizing the layout to improve task efficiency, reduce error/injury, and increase comfort level of employee’s working environment. The task — electrophoresis — Requires fine motor movements for lengthy periods of time in an awkward posture. The job is Tedious, time consuming, and requires careful hand/eye coordination.

In response to some of the employee’s ergonomic concerns, our team conducted research with varies ergonomic methods — survey, interview, observation, posture analysis, and task analysis — to find out key elements to improve the ergonomic conditions of the electrophoresis room and give suitable recommendations.

Findings

A heat map of the lab space, with the gel electrophoresis task outlined in green, and the other lab task outlined in yellow. The overlapped space is shown in red.
  1. The layout doesn’t support the workflow of the 2 concurrent tasks in the room. Risk for bumping into each other or their experiment. (See figure to the left)
  2. Most reported injures including shoulder and wrists. Discomfort is found in neck, should, wrist, legs and feet.
  3. There are too many extra unused storage spaces, such as cabinets, drawers, drying rack, and fridge. Reasons for leaving them empty are unnecessary storage space and hard to reach.
  4. There are no leg space for gel manufacture work-station or computer station, which causes poor posture and leg pain.
  5. There are heavy lifting that increases risk of wrist injure during gel manufacture process.
  6. The desktop height is neither comfortable for standing nor sitting, especially for computer work.
  7. Poor lighting for electrophoresis process and there is shadow over the working station, which causes eye-strain.
  8. Closed space, which causes boredom and stress easily.
  9. Lab manager mentions that they would like to have at least one more height adjustable Dead Air Box (for PCR)

Recommendation


Overview of newly arranged lab room with Sketchup Model:


Layout: In order to simultaneously solve the problem of high collision probability when two workers are present, as well as the problem of high step count during the tasks, we propose a new task flow, and thus a new layout of the lab space. We propose relocating all of the gel electrophoresis materials and tools to the right side of the room, and all of the other lab task stations to the left side of the room. On the gel side, gel manufacture, gel electrophoresis, and imaging stations will be in a row, respectively. This will allow for a smooth task flow, as gels must first be manufactured, then run, and finally imaged. Putting these tasks in a linear row will minimize the steps a worker has to take to complete the task, as well as minimize reach of the worker for materials on the other side of the room. The other task, similarly, would be oriented on the opposite side of the room in a linear row as well to maintain proper task flow. With this updated layout, two workers could comfortably work in the room without interfering with each other’s experiments or covering too much ground, minimizing risk of injury or error by collision, or the risk of lower-body fatigue after walking excessively.

The proposed updated layout. Notice no red overlap between tasks on this heat map, as well as reduced walking distances.

General Recommendation: In the big picture, we have 3 recommendations. First, we recommend removing the mat to reduce the chance of tripping over and allow fluent movement of the chairs. Instead of using the mat, we have found a product that can bring the mat to the shoe for people who standing long time in the lab to have support for their legs (shoe figure). Second, we recommend to remove some of the lower cabinets for leg spaces and change the upper shelves into cabinets with clear glass doors, which can prevent dust and also allows the users to see the items inside the cabinets. Third, we implemented extra lighting both attached under the cabinets and one adjustable light on desktop for electrophoresis. It will eliminates shadow on the project and also introduces ratio to reduce eye strain.

Gel Manufacture Area: In the new gel manufacture working station, we have two major areas: the sink area and the manufacture area. In the sink area, we recommended to move the fridge towards the door and have extra drying area on the right side of the sink. Also, the extra space allows extra drying rack to attach to the fridge, so that it is lower and can reduce the risk of reaching(figure). We also suggest to move the paper log from under the sink to a magnetic clipboard with pen on the fridge to reduce the need of reaching down and squat while recording.

Manufacture Area Recommendations (Enlarge for details)

In the manufacture area, we recommended jug dispenser, which reduce lifting and therefore decrease the likelihood of wrist injury caused by frequent heavy lifting. Also, we implemented lower sliding drawer under the gel manufacture surface, which allows the employees to place flat gel container and reduce the risk of shoulder injury by reducing length of lever required to move gel container up and down from the shelf. Last, we recommended a small implementation of wall-mounted glove box holder to reduce the chance of glove box falling over shelf and cause injury or inefficiency.

Gel Electrophoresis and Computer Imaging Area: For the gel electrophoresis area, we recommended a height adjustable table top which brings the electrophoresis closer to the user, thereby reducing neck strain and the need to bend over. The adjustable table has enough surface area to include all preparation steps, reducing the need to bend over for other materials and therefore reducing tension in their upper body. Also, we removed the cabinets under the table, which gives ample leg space for the user to reduce lower body tension.

Gel Electrophoresis and Computer Imaging Area Recommendations

For the computer imaging area, we recommended to remove extra unused shelves in the corner for potential modular shelving or personalization in the future. We also recommend an adjustable computer mount which allows both sitting and standing use depending on the preference of the user.

Future PCR Working Stations (Miscellaneous Tasks): Instead of cabinets and fridge on the left hand side of the lab, we recommend that height-adjustable tables be placed there instead. Previous research has indicated that adjustable desks significantly reduce rates of musculoskeletal discomfort (Hedge & Ray, 2004). Furthermore, these tables allow for versatility of use in that dead air boxes may be easily mounted if needed or the tables can remain empty to allow for various tasks to be completed on them.

Instead of the cabinets found at the back of the laboratory, our team recommends that laboratory carts be used instead. These carts will allow technicians to easily access task relevant materials and allow them to customize their contents more efficiently. Furthermore, the position of these carts can be easily changed to allow for both left and right hand users to easily access their supplies and materials.

Removing the shelves at the back of the room would also allow more opportunities for workplace customization. Previous studies have indicated that allowing for personalization improves employee wellbeing and satisfaction with the workplace (Wells, 2000).

Final word:

This is a class project focused on providing possible ergonomic improvements in a school laboratory. If you are interested in this project, please feel free to reach me out for a complete final report and detailed analysis/justification. Special thanks to my teammates as this is my first human factor project to apply theories to practical design recommendations. Also many thanks to the employees and lab manager for their detailed explanation of the professional knowledge for electrophoresis and PCR procedure.

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