Using a microscope
can be hazardous to your health!
People who use microscopes have been asking those who design
them to make them more suitable for human use ever since that
first user sat down at one and tried to spend an entire workday
peering through the eyepiece. Some of these requests have taken
the form of articles presented in public-domain publications
concerning the adverse health impact of operating these tools
throughout a career. The excerpts below are just the tip of the
- Treatise On Optics, Second American Edition - Philadelphia,
1835 Sir David Brewster: "The best position for
microscopical observations is when the observer is lying
horizontally on his back. ........ The worst of all positions is
that in which we look downwards vertically."
- The International Academy of Cytology, Reference
25:195-196, 1981, letters to the Editor: ..."The
principles of industrial design have long been established, and it
is axiomatic that tools should be adapted to people and not vice
versa. In addition, microscopy is a skill that could readily be
practised by many handicapped people if instruments could be made to
suit their special requirements, such as mounting on wheel
chairs." Max Robinowitz, M.D., Gunther F. Bahr, M.D. F.I.A.C.,
Cecil H. Fox, Ph.D. (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology)
- Proceedings of the Human Factors Society - 29th Annual
Meeting - 1985 Article: "Physical Stress Reduction of
Microscope Operators" ..."Soderberg, et al. (1980) also
revealed that 84 percent of microscopists had job related
musculoskeletal pain." Kwan S. Lee and Linda A. Humphreys.
- Applied Ergonomics 1991 - 22.1, 36-42 Article:
"Planning and Implementation of Microscope Work"
..."A study by Helander and Prabhu (1987) reported an
OSHA injury rate of 19 for a sample of microscope operators."
M.G. Helander, E.J. Grossmith and P. Prabhu.
(note: OSHA rate of 19 means that 19% of employees missed work
during the year as a result of on-the-job injury.)
- ASCT News (American Society for Cytotechnology) Number 3, 1990
Article: The Scoop on Scopes ..."When one considers physical
discomfort as an adjunct to low salaries it becomes increasingly
apparent why there is a high incidence of "drop-out" at
the fifth through tenth year of practice among cytotechnologists."
Roberta M Goodell, Editor.
- USA Microscopy & Analysis, July 1993 Article:
"Applying Ergonomics to Improve Microscopy Work"
..."For example, in their study of a major U.S. Company,
Emmanuel and Glonek found that 80 percent of microscopists
experienced headaches or neck aches and 75 percent complained of eye
strain." Helen Haines and Lynn McAtamney.
- Research & Development, June 1995, feature
article -- "Fabs Strain to Prevent Work- Related Injuries"
from Don Lassiter, a consultant on occupational safety and health
issues for the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) "The
top candidates in the fab for work-related injuries are maintenance
technicians, microscope technicians, and material handlers." He
recommends microscopes with computer monitors and microscopes
designed to improve ergonomics for routine inspection tasks.
(note: the semiconductor industry employs 200,000 in the U.S. with
an injury rate of 4.0 per hundred in 1993.