Five Ways to Stay Safe Around Microtomy


Five Ways to Stay Safe Around Microtomy

Histology is often ranked as a job that is “most damaging to your health.” Microtomy, in particular, is a source of both repetitive motion injuries (RMIs) and nicks and cuts. By using the microtome and transferring sections to the water bath, most histologists suffer from RMIs like carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis at some point in their career. As well, handling sharp blades, both in changing them and during sectioning, presents a risk of cutting yourself – and most newer histologists do this at least once.

There are ways to avoid these injuries – they may not eliminate risk, but they can help. Here are five ways to stay safe around the microtome:

  1. Utilize automated microtomes. One of the most common RMIs in the histology laboratory is carpal tunnel syndrome. This comes from repetitive cranking of the handwheel. Allison Eck, HTL(ASCP)CM, QLS, AHI(AMT) says, “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.” Despite this risk, many histologists utilize manual microtomes, or do not utilize the foot pedal on their motorized microtomes. Many histologists could turn the handwheel more than 500,000 times per year. Reducing this number by utilizing motorized microtomes – and using the foot pedal instead of your hand/wrist – can reduce this number and lower your risk of developing an RMI. Read more about why to switch to motorized microtomes, and see how far your hand actually travels in a year when using a manual microtome.
  2. Review ergonomic microtomy procedures. If you don’t have motorized microtomes, and you don’t see them in your lab’s budget anytime soon, make sure you review appropriate ergonomic microtomy procedures. These include1:
    • Utilizing your entire arm, not just your wrist, to make complete revolutions of the handwheel, and not rocking the handwheel
    • Keeping your arms close to the body to not stick your elbows out.
    • Keeping your shoulders and neck relaxed (bonus: try desk stretches).
  3. Create an ergonomic work station. Microtomy requires a lot of sitting and straining your neck over the microtome and water bath. Encourage your lab manager to provide supportive chairs that allow height adjustment to sit in a neutral position, and desks that position your water bath and microtome to minimize neck and back strain.
  4. Learn about the Aquaro Wishbone Blade Alignment Tool. Our new product, the Aquaro Wishbone, makes blade changes safer by minimizing contact with the blade. The Wishbone’s unique shape allows you to move and align the blade without touching it, and its magnet allows you to safely transfer a blade to the blade box without using tweezers or your fingers.
  5. Take advantage of automated section mounting. Another major RMI from microtomy is tendonitis from manipulating tweezers and paint brushes while transferring sections and ribbons from the blade to the water bath, and then onto slides. This can be avoided by utilizing automated section mounting. The Aquaro ASM utilizes a stream of water to transfer sections from the blade to slides, floating at a temperature and for an amount of time that you choose. Watch the video, and share it with your lab and manager.
Ergonomics and Safety in the Histology Laboratory

Learn more about repetitive motion injuries in the histology laboratory, and how to reduce the risk of injury by downloading this free white paper.

1J. Minshew, “Histology Laboratory Ergonomics and Occupational Risk Factors,” mikro-graf, vol. 42, no. 03, 2013.

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