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July 11, 2017

Laboratory ergonomics for productivity

By GE Life Sciences Support Team

Laboratory ergonomics goes hand-in-hand with human factors to influence lab productivity.

In some of our previous blog posts, we have offered tips and tricks for improving efficiency in gravity and vacuum filtration, aiming to improve your filtration workflow and minimize extra costs.

Something else to consider is laboratory ergonomics, including the ergonomic design of your equipment. Making commonly repeated tasks comfortable and safe – i.e. focusing on human factors - is another way to increase lab productivity.

Ergonomics (noun)

The study of people’s efficiency in their working environment
OED Online, Oxford University Press

Ergonomics and human factors consider an individual’s interactions with a process/system and how best to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. This can be a general consideration, such as the height of your chair, or specific to a certain task, for example, holding and using a pipette.

In this blog post, we discuss some of the key ergonomic considerations in the laboratory, and give you some points to think about going forward.

There are many other specific ergonomic “pressure-points” for laboratories, including protocols involving syringe filtration.

Ergonomics in filtration

Syringe filtration can be a repetitive part of sample preparation, often performed many times a day. The repeated hand strain from multiple filtrations can increase the risk of RSI. This makes the use of syringe filters a subject well suited for ergonomic review.

This is especially true when filtering viscous liquids, where the extra back pressure will result in additional strain on the hand, wrist, and arm, contributing to injury risk.

Using an appropriate filter for the sample in question will make for a more efficient filtration and reduce hand strain. To get this right, there are three major considerations:

  1. When filtering an aqueous sample, make sure to use a hydrophilic filter membrane such as regenerated cellulose. Employing a hydrophobic one (like polytetrafluorethylene – PTFE) will cause the water-based sample to resist penetrating the membrane unless tremendous force is applied.
  2. Use a syringe filter with the largest acceptable pore size for your analysis. Generally speaking, smaller pores clog faster than larger ones, so if you don’t need to remove debris less than 0.44 µm, then use a 0.45 µm filter. Of course, if you do need to remove the smaller debris, then a 0.2 µm syringe filter is appropriate.
  3. If you have a sample with a mixture of large and small particles to filter, then consider a syringe filter with a prefilter layer. This will remove the large particles prior to reaching (and clogging) the main membrane.

In our blog post “Do’s and Don’ts when filtering viscous liquids”, we talk in more detail about difficult-to-filter samples, including some tips and tricks for consistent and reliable filtration

At GE Healthcare, we design our filters with ergonomics in mind. Our filter for automated processing of HPLC samples, the Mini-UniPrep filter, replaces multiple products with just one syringeless filter. Additionally, the GD/X syringe filter is designed to minimize pressure build-up by incorporating multiple prefiltration layers.

If you have questions about improving ergonomics in your laboratory, contact GE Healthcare Life Sciences or try our Whatman Filter Selector App to find out if you are using the most appropriate filtration solution for your samples.