The histology laboratory is often ranked as one of the workplaces that are “most damaging to your health”. Much of this reputation is due to the presence of xylene exposure, but repetitive motion injuries and other issues in ergonomics related to the histology laboratory are other contributing factors.
Repetitive motion injuries are common in the histology laboratory due to equipment that require repetitive tasks that strain muscles, tendons, and other joints. One of the most common repetitive motion injuries in the histology laboratory is carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by a compressed nerve in the wrist, and causes numbness and tingling in the hand. “Carpal tunnel is the number one cumulative trauma disorder that happens in histology,” says Allison Eck, HTL(ASCP)CM, QLS, AHI(AMT), who gave a presentation on Ergonomics in the Histology Laboratory at the 2017 Annual NSH Symposium/Convention. “It’s not a matter of who’s going to get it, but when you’re going to get it due to the nature of repetitive wrist motion in histology.”
In the histology laboratory, carpal tunnel syndrome is often caused by rocking the microtome handwheel. In general, microtomy is a major source of injury. This makes sense as it is one of the last steps of the histology laboratory to be automated. In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome, microtomy is a source of tendonitis in the hands and fingers. Eck comments, “Tendonitis is another major issue that comes from microtomy, from the fine motion of picking up ribbons and from pinching forceps.”
As well, histologists at the microtome spend much of their time hunched over the microtome and the water bath to examine blocks and ribbons and to mount sections. This can cause neck and shoulder strain, eye strain, and headaches.
How can ergonomic and repetitive motion issues around microtomy be resolved? Eck says that histologists can be taught how to properly face, extending their arm rather than repeatedly moving their wrist. As well, histologists in her laboratory vary activities so that one person isn’t performing one task all day. Histologists in her laboratory typically only perform microtomy for two hours a day.
Often, automation is a solution for ergonomic issues in the histology laboratory. Motorized microtomes exist, but histologists typically utilize them in a manual manner, both because histologists prefer the control over cutting provided by manual use, but also because of the increased risk of blade injuries.
The Aquaro ASM™ (Automated Section Mounting) aims to reduce the incidence of injuries by automating the processes of microtomy, specifically section transfer and section mounting. The Aquaro ASM interfaces with microtomes to transfer sections from the blade to slides using a gentle water stream. Prior to placing a section on a slide, the Aquaro ASM relaxes the section by exposing it to warm water at a temperature and for a time programmed by the histologist. By triggering the microtome to take a section, histologists can minimize interactions with the handwheel and blade during sectioning, reducing the risk of injury. As well, fine motor repetitive motions due to section transfer to the water bath and onto slides are eliminated. Learn about the Aquaro ASM by watching a video about the system.
Read more about repetitive motion injuries, as well as slips and falls, in the histology laboratory by reading our white paper, “Ergonomics and Safety in the Histology Laboratory: Prevention of Repetitive Motion Injuries, Slips and Falls, and Other Sources of Injury”.