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Repetitive tasks are inherent to laboratory research, so using an ergonomic biosafety cabinet can alleviate worker discomfort and improve productivity.

The importance of ergonomic laboratory equipment came to light over a decade ago, when The National Institutes of Health and OSHA recognized lab work as an occupation with risk for musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), with RSIs being one of the largest single categories of injury in the workplace.

Researchers who use biological safety cabinets and fume hoods are at risk for RSIs. Five risk factors observed in labs are:

  • Contact stress
  • Force
  • Repetitiveness
  • Static loading
  • Vibration

Elements of Ergonomics in Biosafety Cabinets

Failure to outfit and setup a laboratory workstation properly can encourage the development of RSIs. The proper chair adjusted to the correct setting and tables and work surfaces set at a comfortable height can improve worker comfort and productivity. In addition, attention to environmental and user/equipment interface factors will create the most ideal “ergonomic” work situation.


When establishing an ergonomic workstation, attention should be given to selecting the proper chair.

  • A chair should have at least five legs for stability if on casters.
  • Casters must allow for easy movement when seated.
  • Seat height should be pneumatically adjustable while seated.
  • Seat width of 17-20″ suffices for most people and should be deep enough to permit the back to contact the lumbar backrest without impinging nerves in the backs of knees.
  • The front edge should be padded and contoured into a waterfall design behind the knees.
  • The seat slant should be adjustable (0 to 10°).
  • The seat should swivel easily.

Tables and Work Surfaces

When the appropriate chair has been chosen for an ergonomic workspace, attention must then turn to the primary work surface and its height and adjustability.

The primary work surface must have sufficient space to handle all equipment. A general recommendation is that the work surface top should be at least as large as a standard office desk, 30″ deep by 60″ wide.

When considering work surface height, under-table height and knee clearance should not be ignored. Knee spaces should allow a worker to not feel crowded and to allow some changes of position. The knee space should be at least 19″ deep by 30″ wide by 27″ high to comply with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The primary work surface should take into account the maximum reach of both male and female workers. This prevents hunching of the shoulders and repetitive stretching which increases muscle fatigue and rotates the spinal column out of the ideal double “S” curve.

The distance between the front of the cabinet and the front of the solid work surface should be minimized to allow the worker to position himself/herself close to the cabinet’s work tray and to operate in the natural 8-14″ reach range.

Location of Controls

Petcocks, electrical outlets and other services inside the work area should be positioned toward the front to reduce lab personnel’s need to reach and stretch repetitively out of the head-over-shoulders position. Switches, alarms and gauges should be at eye level when an investigator is standing in front of the cabinet to allow ease in operation.

While the focus on developing an ergonomic workplace may fall on physical objects, much can be done in the work environment to make it more adapted to the worker.

Proper lighting is important to the ergonomic workstation. Bright lights should be kept out of the worker’s field of vision. Monitors and viewscreens should be tilted when possible to avoid glare from overhead sources. Overhead lighting should be flicker free to reduce eyestrain.

Air flow in the work environment is also important. Maintaining fresh air in the work place as well as keeping dust in the area to the minimum will improve worker productivity. This goes hand-in-hand with comfortable temperature and humidity. Ideal settings are from 68-72° F, with a 30-50 percent relative humidity.

Choosing a cabinet with an angled viewscreen reduces glare, and the light source at the top front of the work area should be flicker-free and angled down and away from the worker. Lab personnel can also wear dark-colored lab coats to reduce reflection and glare in the viewscreen.

Summary of Ergonomic Design Features and Benefits of a Biosafety Cabinet

Angled viewscreenA slanted viewscreen sloped 10° will create a more natural head position and reduce glare.
Reduced width of front grille and airfoilReduced front grille depth and a slim profile lower plenum combine to move the work surface closer to the front and to the researcher’s lap for better arm position as well as to create a larger work surface. Aerodynamically designed airfoil at the front opening facilitates the flow of room air into the front grille, ensuring no room air flows into the work area.
High performance airflow systemA high performing airflow system can deliver quieter, more efficient performance and offer optimum protection from particulates. An example is the UniPressure Preflow Plenum from The Baker Company, which apportions and distributes air across, then through, the HEPA supply filter improving downflow uniformity, reducing noise and increasing reserve blower/motor capacity.
FootrestAn ergonomic adjustable footrest that allows for comfortable positioning beneath cabinet will improve posture and comfort.
ArmrestUsing an armrest across the cabinet front improves support and comfort. Be sure it can stand up to disinfection procedures and does not interfere with airflow.
Control positionsEye-level control panel should be positioned to face down toward the user for greater visibility and easier access.
Service fixture positionPlumbing and drainage connections should be located toward the front of the cabinet and within arm’s reach for comfort in use. Multiple petcocks may be offset for easier access and use.
AdjustabilityChoose a stand that can allow continuous work surface adjustment from 27 3/4″ to 39 1/2″ to allow adjustability for worker comfort.
Reduced heat in canopyUse of energy-saving fluorescent canopy lighting with solid-state ballasts will reduce flicker, minimize heat output, improve eye comfort and extend lamp life by as much as 50 percent.

Pioneering Ergonomics in Biological Safety Cabinets

The Baker Company was the first company to unveil ergonomic enhancements in the biological safety industry, and continue to advance comfort and convenience with thoughtful design enhancements and new product features. The SterilGARD e3 Class II Type A2 cabinet offers a revolutionary airflow management system with proven containment technology that saves energy, increases productivity and improves comfort.

See the SterilGARD in action