Ergonomic microscopes: can they reduce the risks of work-related musculo-skeletal disorders?

Heather Gray, Fiona MacMillan

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting abstractpeer-review


Introduction: Microscopy work places a high level of musculo-skeletal stress on the body of the user. Indeed, there are certain types of neck–shoulder disorders associated with microscope operation, especially during cytology work. This field study was carried out to investigate the differences in upper trapezius muscle activity, posture, pain and perceived exertion in cytologists while scanning cervical screening slides using both standard and ergonomic microscopes.

Method: The study employed a two-period crossover experimental design. Thirteen cytologists (mean age 36.1 ± 8.8 years) from one acute NHS Trust consented to participate. Subjects screened eight slides with each microscope while four different measurements were taken: bilateral upper trapezius electromyography; posture, using a Rapid Upper Limb Assessment (RULA); pain, using a body part discomfort diagram and Visual Analogue Scale; and rating of perceived exertion (Borg CR-10 RPE Scale).

Results: The results demonstrated that when operating the ergonomic microscope, there was significantly less upper trapezius activity for both the right (P = 0.015) and left (P = 0.000) shoulders, signifying reductions of 64% and 62%, respectively. However, there was not a statistically significant difference in postures adopted between the microscopes, using RULA (P = 0.173). Neither were there any statistically significant differences in neck (P = 0.084), upper back (P = 0.098) or lower back (P = 0.625) pain when using the ergonomic microscope, although, a statistically significant reduction in shoulder pain was reported (P = 0.043). Finally, the results revealed that the ergonomic microscope required significantly less perceived exertion to operate than the standard microscope (P = 0.009). An additional important finding was that screening took approximately 40 s less per slide using the ergonomic microscope.

Discussion: This study indicated that the ergonomic microscope was preferable to the standard microscope in terms of upper trapezius muscle activity, shoulder pain and perceived exertion. These findings have important implications for cytologists, of whom the majority are currently using standard microscopes, in terms of reducing potential risk factors for the development of work-related musculo-skeletal disorders. Furthermore, this evidence supports the ergonomic recommendations delineated in the National Health Services Cervical Screening Programme Standards (NHSCSP 1997).

Relevance to industry: Cytology laboratories should give close consideration to the types of microscopes purchased. Consideration should be given to adapting existing microscope workstations by providing microscopists with angle-adjustable arm supports.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-18
Number of pages1
Issue numberSuppl. 1
Early online date2 Sep 2003
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


  • musculoskeletal disorder
  • ergonomcs
  • microscopes


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