Ergonomic Microscopes From Olympus Improve Productivity

Designing good habits into laboratory work tools

Taran March @ Quality Digest

September 16, 2021

You may work in a state-of-the-art lab, but do your ergonomic practices still linger in the 19th century? If you spend more than five hours a day at a microscope, leave work with blurred vision and a persistent downward tilt to your neck, then the answer is, sadly, yes. In that case it’s time you put a stop to these harmful work habits and improve both your well-being and productivity.

To do this, begin by considering what you know about ergonomics. For the most part, people vaguely understand that ergonomics is a lateral branch of science that studies how to fit work to the worker, not the other way around. Expensive chairs and terms such as carpal tunnel factor into it. Organizations, to greater or lesser degrees, launch initiatives to ergonomically organize their workspaces.

But how do ergonomics fit into your personal lab habits? If you’re a chronic sloucher, or habitually skip your breaks, chances are that ergonomics play a very small role in your work day, regardless of your comprehension of the concept. For most of us, it’s easy for ergonomic improvements to live in our heads rather than our musculoskeletal systems.

To combat this issue, Olympus has built ergonomic features into its products, an innovation prompted by customer concerns about improving the work environment for its microscope technicians.

“Olympus has worked hard to make sure that our microscopes have ergonomic components,” says Megan Farell, a technical sales support specialist for industrial microscopes at Olympus. “This facilitates both increased productivity for workers as well as comfort and helps prevent any repetitive injuries. Where ergonomics is relevant in microscopy is routine microscopy, where a person is working with a microscope for at least half of their workday. When they are spending such long periods of time on a microscope, it’s vital that they practice proper ergonomics to make sure they’re not straining their back, straining their neck, or getting headaches.”

Optimum ergonomics for microscopy
Optimal ergonomics for microscopy

Responding to the problem, Olympus set about developing concrete solutions for prolonged awkward postures at microscopes. The results feature in their BX3 series of clinical microscopes as well as the CX3 series of biological microscopes and the SZX industrial stereo microscope series.

Because lab technicians come in all shapes and sizes, Olympus ergonomic microscopes are readily adjustable so every operator can work easily and comfortably. When adjusted optimally for the user, these microscopes help prevent back and neck strain, avoid excessive or repetitive movement, and encourage users to turn ergonomic good intentions into actual habits.

“There are multiple parts that we offer with our microscopes to help facilitate ergonomics,” says Farell. “They’re designed to be flexible systems, to make it easier for all users to work safely and comfortably.”

Solving strain

The SZX microscopes illustrate this well. Comparing their features with common ergonomic problems associated with microscope use shows how the company solved many of these issues through product design.

SZX industrial microscope
SZX industrial microscope

“With ergonomics, recommended best practices are to keep your back in a neutral position, your neck fairly neutral, feet touching the floor and knees bent at a right angle if you’re sitting in chair, and your arms bent between 90° and 120° and resting on the table,” says Farell. “Changing your eye focus routinely is also important, to make sure that you’re not straining your eyes or getting blurry vision or headaches. It’s also beneficial to have everything in an easy-to-reach location.”

Here’s how SZX industrial stereo microscopes address these routine microscopy issues.

Poor posture and slouching shoulders

Hunching over the microscope is a natural response to both concentration and poorly designed workspaces, but it will guarantee stiff muscles at the end of the day. SZX microscopes have longer eye tubes, which facilitate good posture, and their extendable eyepoint-height adjusters can be tailored to accommodate users of different heights.

Chin jutting forward and a bent neck

Ideally, users should keep their necks at an angle of 20° or less, and their eyesight level. The SZX series’ tilting trinocular head enables users to adjust the eyepieces so their necks remain at the optimal angle.

SZX’s tilting trinocular head
SZX microscopes’ tilting trinocular head

Eye strain due to prolonged use

To help alleviate eye strain and headaches, microscope operators should change their focus about every 30 minutes. Olympus researchers established a correlation between stereo microscope optical systems and eyestrain. Certain convergence angles between the left and right optical paths can cause discomfort. 

The SZX2 series is designed with a convergence angle that compensates for each optical path. This effectively eliminates eyestrain, even during prolonged observation.

SZX2 series’ convergence angle
SZX2 series’ convergence angle

In addition, multiple lighting choices contribute to optimum illumination of samples, which helps cuts down on eye fatigue.

Cumbersome equipment with difficult-to-reach controls

SZX microscopes have focus and adjustment knobs located in easy-to-reach places, and the microscopes’ slim design enables operators to change samples with minimal arm and hand movements. The slim, LED-transmitted, light-illumination stand features fingertip control and provides easy access to samples.

Other features that ease lab technicians’ jobs

Beyond their ergonomic design, the SZX series include viewing features that enhance productivity.
• A wide zoom range of 0.7X–11.5X enables clear observation, from an overview of a sample down to its microstructures.
• Resolution at the most frequently used magnification setting (middle range) is 30-percent better than previous Olympus stereo microscopes.
• Improved brightness provides the high image clarity needed for research in advanced materials and electronics.
• The revolving nosepiece (SZX2-2RE16) incorporates parfocal (PF) objective lenses for observation at different magnifications, enabling quick and minimal focusing when switching between them.
• Distortion-free design minimizes image curvature and distortion, offering true-to-life observation of flat samples within the field of view.

In addition to building ergonomics into their microscopes, Olympus works with third parties to help clients design entire ergonomic workspaces. 

About The Author

Taran March @ Quality Digest’s picture

Taran March @ Quality Digest

Taran March is Quality Digest’s executive editor. A 35-year veteran of publishing, March has written and edited for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, and universities. When not plotting the course of QD with the team, she usually can be found clicking around the internet in search of news and clues to the human condition.