The SmartRack® - occupational safety and ergonomics

The world‘s only laboratory organisation system as your guarantor for safety and ergonomics in the laboratory workplace

Safety in laboratories is mainly determined by their structural environment, the equipment used and the qualifications of the laboratory staff.

  • Risks for employees must be excluded in any case – the SmartRack® makes an important contribution here.
  • By combining technical as well as organisational measures, these dangers are significantly minimised – the SmartRack® is indispensable for this.

The SmartRack® meets all applicable specifications in the laboratory area according to DIN, DGUV and TRGS

Laboratory organisation system for employer and employee obligations

The SmartRack® – your optimal choice to meet all regulatory requirements.

Employers are obliged to organise their laboratory workplace in such a way that hazards are avoided, or at least kept to a minimum. (GUV-I 850-0 pt. 4.3.1) Requirements are also placed upon laboratory employees – it is their duty to keep their workplace in order as much as possible. The SmartRack® supports both employers and employees in creating sufficiently safe and workplace-oriented storage space as well as storage facilities for laboratory glassware, for laboratory equipment, but also for samples and hazardous substances. Thanks to its adaptable module system and diverse, coordinated mounts and modules, the SmartRack® meets the requirements and secures the working environment in laboratories.

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Solutions for the requirements of the present and the future

Occupational safety in the laboratory has always been a topic of enormous importance. Still, issues such as sharing laboratory resources, digitalisation in the laboratory, and laboratory automation are becoming increasingly important. Similarly, a new field of location-independent working is now emerging in the laboratory industry. In chemistry and biology laboratories, cost pressure and the need for more efficient use of existing workstation structures are growing. Before a laboratory workstation was permanently assigned to a laboratory technician and used over many years, today, it is used needs-oriented. It must be adapted to constantly changing tasks. Some universities and research institutes are leading the way and offer their resources for booking internally and across working groups. However, the most common reason for a shared economy in the laboratory sector is the potential for savings on high investment costs, which can be significantly reduced through better utilisation.

However, the age-appropriate design of workplaces is becoming just as important as it is relevant in the wake of the increasing shortage of skilled workers. Providing the technically optimal laboratory workstation for the respective activity with the best working conditions becomes a logistical challenge for a company, especially if sustainability criteria are to be considered. Laboratory companies will be faced with the challenge of balancing their employees’ performance and individual skill sets across all age groups and operational working conditions while remaining successful as a business. This balance is a new, albeit indirect, reason for making laboratory workplaces flexible and modular in design.

Solutions to all these questions are practically already available, just not in the combination necessary to answer this question. But what specific requirements will a laboratory workplace have to meet in 2022? Information on this is available in an entire series of guidelines and regulations, which are both recommendatory and binding.

Dr_rer_nat_Marcus_Heinze
Dr. Marcus Heinze, Development Manager at Better Basics Laborbedarf GmbH

Managing complex and interrelated hazards is extremely challenging for any human.

Dr. Marcus Heinze, Development Manager

The Standards at a Glance: DIN-EN, (D)GUV, TRGS

Information on this is available in a whole series of guidelines and regulations, which are both recommendatory and binding

  • Those responsible for occupational health and safety will find what they are looking for in publication 213-850 of the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV), which provides detailed information under the title “Working Safely in Laboratories – Basic Principles and Guidelines”.
  • Also of great relevance are DIN EN 13150-2001 EN – Workbenches for laboratories – Safety requirements and test methods and
  • DIN EN 14056-2003 EN – Laboratory furniture – Recommendations for design and installation,
  • Technical Rules for Hazardous Substances – TRGS 526 and
  • the “Small Ergonomic Data Collection” of the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

For companies in the field of laboratory equipment and laboratory organisation, the specification to be rendered analogously is thus critical: Safety and occupational health in laboratories are determined by the furnishings, equipment, construction, and procedures, as well as the apparatus and its operation, but also by the training and professional competence and proficiency of the laboratory staff. The aim is to reduce the risk to employees and the environment to a maximum by combining possible measures. Technical, organisational, and behavioural standards for employees serve this purpose. This task is precisely what the SmartRack® laboratory organisation system addresses because it essentially determines the activities that laboratory employees can perform and thus helps to reduce hazards.

Stichverletzung im Labor - Mikoliterspritze durchsticht Laborhandschuh
Puncture injury in the laboratory - microliter syringe punctures laboratory glove
Sicherheit im Labor - Mikroliterspritze sicher aufbewahren, Stichverletzung vermeiden
Store microliter syringe safely in the laboratory, avoid puncture injuries

But what does hazard reduction look like in the immediate environment of laboratory employees? In principle, work in the laboratory requires appropriate training, instruction, and qualification. Professional errors should be excluded in this way. As mentioned in the first paragraph, the shortage of skilled workers is also becoming increasingly pressing in the laboratory environment. To ensure maximum safety, organisational and technical measures must be taken to eliminate hazards. These arise primarily due to repetitive activities, high time pressure and comparatively high demands on employees’ ability to concentrate.

Although not consciously exerted directly by colleagues or supervisors, psychological pressure can also affect the work in the laboratory from the employees’ private environment and thus become a safety risk. It is essential to create a safe working environment for employees, even under hidden, difficult mental conditions, by taking precautionary measures and optimally designing the workplace. A laboratory organisation system such as SmartRack® addresses this point and optimises safety by helping avoid errors.

Greifraum, Streckraum, Reichraum
Optimum use of gripping space, reach space, stretching space through the SmartRack®

An ergonomic optimisation of the workplace helps to relieve the shoulders, eyes and heads of users of the SmartRack®. This is achieved because all the work equipment can be optimally placed in the field of vision and within reach of the users.

Three areas of the direct working environment: the gripping area for direct access in front of the laboratory assistant, the reach area next to it – it can be reached by stretching the arm, the stretching area requires a short-term displacement of the body‘s centre of gravity

The more significant the number of laboratory employees becomes, the more numerous the interdependencies resulting from the individual work. If it were assumed that a laboratory technician only works alone in one room at a fume cupboard, then even in the event of a laboratory accident, the consequences would be manageable – both for the one laboratory employee’s health and the technical equipment of the laboratory.

However, suppose many employees work in one room at many safety fume cupboards or safety workbenches. In that case, the number of possible interdependencies multiplies in the event of an accident. Now laboratory managers are particularly challenged because they must be aware of all possible combinations of risks and counteract them preventively through organisational measures. Managing complex and interrelated hazards is exceptionally challenging for any human. It is, therefore, essential to prevent this type of hazard association by taking organisational measures. If the storage of hazardous substances and handling of laboratory materials are simplified and structured, this helps keep these multiple risks under control.

Unachtsamkeit und mangelnder Arbeitsschutz: Ein umfallender Rundkolben sorgt für einen Laborunfall und einen hohen Schaden
Carelessness and lack of occupational safety: A round bottom flask falling over causes a laboratory accident and a lot of damage

If 200 employees can use 100 laboratory workstations, this saves money because high-quality and cost-intensive capital goods are also used optimally in laboratories in this way. However, this also goes hand in hand with the fact that workplaces must be changed frequently. On any given day, work can be done at a different lab workstation if needed. This additionally increases the pressure on concentration and the mental fitness of employees. Employers are, however, required to fully comply with the protection goals for their employees, even in the case of flexible use of workplaces. Saving capital equipment diametrically affects the achievability of protection goals. A laboratory organisation system such as the SmartRack® creates the possibility of mobile working under comparable conditions despite the flexibilization of the workplace. As the SmartRack® is transportable and has a modular design, the familiar, accustomed, and safe working environment can be set up and used quickly at any fume cupboard. Safety is, hence, a question of organisation and order. Just as the order increases safety, disorder and a lack of standardisation endanger the health of laboratory employees.

Laboratory employees in Germany are paid an average monthly salary of EUR 3,375. Of course, significantly higher wages are also possible and not unusual. If a SmartRack® prevents only one accident with a personal injury during its entire service life, e.g., due to the spilling of an acid, which would result in a downtime of at least two weeks, then costs of approx. 2,000 EUR were avoided by using the SmartRack® – far more than the SmartRack® itself costs.

Ergonomie - Stehend mit bildschirm
Ergonomic design of computer workstations
for standing activities by using the SmartRack®

With an optimal inclination of the head of 15° during standing activities, a 90° angle to the screen surface should be maintained

The SmartRack® also optimises the use of screens on laboratory work tables and on laboratory fume hoods. The SmartRack®‘s optional tablet holder allows the individual adjustment of the viewing angle through the height positioning of the slot rails.

Ergonomics for standing activities: When working, especially in the laboratory environment, the height of the worktable is usually not adjustable. Since it is important to ensure an optimal inclination of the head in relation to the work and/or the screens, only the SmartRack® with its tablet holder currently allows the optimal, ergonomic positioning of the screen.

The controllability of unforeseen events and their prevention under the extended circumstance of the mutual influence of workplaces, especially with flexible use, presents laboratory managers and occupational health and safety officers with new tasks. Laboratory staff must have the training and professional development to meet these requirements.

It is generally known that hazardous substances are used in laboratories. A more complex issue is the proper storage of dangerous materials. These may only be stored in cabinets and/or shelves so that their safe removal by employees can also occur. Since laboratory safety fume cupboards are not height-adjustable per se, the question now arises as to how ergonomic requirements are considered in this environment. Smaller and larger people must be able to use hazardous materials safely. A height-adjustable design for the shelf or support is needed at this point. Requirements for flexible supports are regulated in DIN EN 14056-2003, as they should be able to be adjusted, levelled as well as locked.

Since locking is an intentional mechanical block, the SmartRack® complies with these requirements of the DIN standard because the storage of the individual modules in height-adjustable slot rails enables safe storage of the consumables in the laboratory and thus also of the hazardous materials. If desired, the bases for the SmartRack® can be supplied with a levelling function. But it is not only the storage of hazardous substances or other classic laboratory accessories that needs to be safeguarded. The health of the employees themselves must also be actively protected.

For example, specifications regarding the height of workstations must be observed, especially with the increasing digitalisation of the laboratory, which increasingly involves using displays. The laboratory benches’ measurements depend on the activity type and range from 720 mm for seated activities to 900 mm for standing activities. Of course, height-adjustable tables offer improved ergonomics when adapting to different body sizes.

Dr_rer_nat_Marcus_Heinze
Dr. Marcus Heinze, Development Manager at Better Basics Laborbedarf GmbH

In order to relieve the shoulders, the neck, but also the eyes of laboratory employees, the work area in front of the employees should be optimally structured.

Dr. Marcus Heinze, Development Manager

To relieve the shoulders, neck, and eyes of laboratory employees, the work area in front of the employees should be optimally structured. This work area is ergonomically divided into three areas. The gripping area for direct access in front of the lab technician, the reaching area adjoins it – it can be reached by stretching the arm, and the stretching area requires short-term shifting of the body’s centre of gravity and should only be used very rarely.

The SmartRack®, as a laboratory organisation, optimises the use and accessibility of all three areas in a form that can be individually tailored to the user. To enable the optimum forward head tilt of 15° for standing tasks and simultaneous viewing of a screen at 90° to the viewer’s eye, the screen height and tilt must be adjustable. Here again, a laboratory organisation system such as the SmartRack® is an ideal tool, as it ensures that the exact position of the screen is made possible for each user thanks to the optional tablet holder in height-adjustable slot rails. There are also specifications of this type for sedentary activities.

For example, the optimum forward head tilt of 35° is to be maintained; the screen should be viewed at a 90° angle to the eye. Also, in this case, the ideal positioning of the screen can be ensured by using the SmartRack® employing adjustable modules.

Sitzend stehend Tätigkeiten ergonomie arbeitsschutz
Ergonomic design of computer workstations for sedentary work by using the SmartRack®

With an optimal inclination of the head of 35° during sedentary activities, a 90° angle to the screen surface should be maintained.

The use of screens at the laboratory workstation is also optimised by the SmartRack®. The SmartRack®‘s optional tablet holder allows the individual adjustment of the viewing angle through the height positioning of the slot rails.

Ergonomics for sedentary work (left without, right with screen at the workplace): for sedentary work, it is important to ensure an optimal inclination of the head in relation the work on laboratory tables, laboratory fume hoods and/or screens

Summary: Occupational Safety in the Laboratory

Safety in the laboratory through technical means and optimal organisation alone is not conceivable and can only be implemented with the cooperation of laboratory employees.

They are also clearly required to cooperate in this way. Laboratory staff must be empowered to face and overcome these challenges through training and professional development. Occupational safety and health are a task that must be consciously included in in-house training and personnel planning questions.

Safety remains a joint task between employers, employees, laboratory planners, and equipment suppliers. Only as a team can the potential of digitisation and state-of-the-art technology be exploited, and the challenges of increasing cost pressure and demographic change be overcome.

Further Information

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