We got in touch with Susan Hardesty, MS, OTR after she downloaded our Ergonomics and Safety in the Histology Laboratory whitepaper. As Susan is an occupational therapist and specialist in ergonomics at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis, IN, we thought she would have important and interesting information to share with histologists and histology lab managers about minimizing injuries in the laboratory.
What is your background?
My primary training is as an occupational therapist, and I have my masters in ergonomics.
How do you interact with hospital employees?
Typically I receive a request by an employee, observe them working, and make recommendations.
How do you interact with histologists in your role?
This is a new role for the hospital, so I’m only starting to be involved with the histology laboratory. Last year I had a request from a histologist to visit her laboratory. She had been a histologist for a while and didn’t have an injury but wanted to be proactive. Later, she had neck pain and her doctor recommended that she follow up with me again.
What observations did you have about the histology laboratory?
Histology laboratories have interesting challenges. For example, the laboratory has adjustable chairs at the microtome. Typically, the chair should be adjusted so that your elbows are above the level of your work surface, but when I raised her chair the histologist’s neck was craning over her slides. When her chair was lower her neck wasn’t in pain. So, there’s a balance that needs to be met. I like to say, “Your eyes guide your movement.” By adjusting her seat so that her eyes could easily see her specimens, her neck was in a neutral position, yet her elbows were still flexed.
What recommendations do you have for histologists to stay healthy and minimize injuries?
What changes would you make to histology laboratories to improve ergonomics?
I would use height adjustable surfaces whenever possible, especially for microtomes and embedding stations. I would change embedding stations so that they could be angled so that a histologist could look at it without craning their neck. In general, I would change instruments so that they could be positioned better without changing the integrity of the machine.
When you suspect an injury, what steps do you recommend?
Tell their supervisor and find out if they have an ergonomic specialist, or OT/PT that they could go see or have come observe them work. It’s hard to recognize bad postures or patterns and having an outside person come in is helpful. A lot of times people know what to do but it’s helpful to have someone reinforce that.
What can histology laboratory managers do to improve the ergonomics of their laboratories?
Management is important in terms of embracing good work habits. New work habits are hard to adopt, especially if they are slower or less comfortable, even if strain is lessened. But you will be able to work longer and more comfortably if you are working in the best posture. Sometimes management has been out of the laboratory long enough to forget what technicians are experiencing but being proactive about supporting more ergonomic work habits is important.
Thank you for speaking with us, Susan!