The requirements for laboratory seating are surprisingly different from those of office seating. Since laboratory work is so varied, there are no hard and fast guidelines. Instead, when deciding on seating, you should consider the specific tasks and workflow in your lab. Then ask these three questions to help you choose your seating:
- What materials are in the chair?
- How frequently will the chair be moved between stations?
- What type of ergonomic adjustments will you need?
What materials are in the chair?
Unlike office seating, where you might choose the materials based on comfort or aesthetics, laboratory chairs have stringent materials requirements for safety reasons.
You should look for seating made of hard, non-porous, chemically resistant materials. If your lab works with biohazards, you need to decontaminate your chairs without damaging the materials. Even if safety is not a factor, regular cleaning can reduce cross-contamination and improve the quality of your experimental results. An excellent resource for cleaning protocols is the CDC’s “Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories” handbook. Appendix B provides a detailed discussion of decontamination and disinfection considerations.
How frequently will the chair be moved between stations?
In the office, you typically don’t move the seating around. In contrast, in a lab, you frequently need to switch tasks or stations as you go through the process. You may also need to work standing up. The ability to smoothly roll or swivel the chair between stations or out of the way is a crucial factor to consider when choosing lab seating.
What type of ergonomic adjustments will you need?
The chair must be ergonomically correct for a variety of tasks. In an office environment, this is easier since it is uncommon to perform wildly different tasks using the same chair. In a lab, however, it is common for the chair to move with you as you run various experiments. You might use the biological safety cabinet, a microscope, and a computer station within your process. You must be able to adjust the chair or stool to work comfortably at each station. Frequently this requires a much more extensive range of adjustments than you would find in an office chair.
Ergonomics is critical since laboratory workers are at high risk for repetitive motion injuries. OSHA provides a Fact Sheet outlining typical lab tasks and suggesting methods to prevent injuries, including proper chair adjustment. The University of Pennsylvania Office of Environmental Health and Radiation safety has a checklist of laboratory chair features to consider.
The varied nature of labwork can make it more challenging to find appropriate lab seating. However, you can find seating that makes your work easier and more comfortable. If you consider how your lab works and evaluate the materials, the moveability, and the ergonomics, you will find a chair that works for your lab.