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Microtomy and Injury Prevention: Biological and Ergonomic Hazards

Biological hazards
Tissue may not always be fixed or processed optimally. Therefore, paraffin processed tissue may be biologically active even after processing. The following can prevent exposure to bloodborne pathogens:
  • Facility specific infection control policies, such as universal precautions, should be adhered to whenever handling tissue samples or body fluids (such as cytology samples).
  • Prevent exposure to biological hazards by always wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) during microtomy, including disposable gloves.
  • Cuts should be reported and documented (according to facility policy) due to possible exposure to biological hazards.
  • All blades and sharps used in histology must be disposed of in biohazardous sharps containers.
Ergonomic hazards
Repetitive movements and awkward postures are common with microtomy due to poorly designed work stations and the repetitive nature of the task. The physical effects of microtomy on the body may not become apparent for many years, but taking preventive measures early will reduce ergonomic stress on joints and future musculoskeletal problems. Common ergonomic issues among histotechs who sit for extended periods at a microtome include:
  • Wrist problems
  • Shoulder problems
  • Back pain
  • Sciatica (pain, weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg)
To help prevent ergonomic issues:
  • Use the entire arm to rotate the hand wheel; keep arms close to body and shoulders relaxed
  • Roll shoulders and do wrist circles every 20 minutes
  • Get up to stretch and walk around every hour
  • Position chair at proper height for the work bench; correct height of work bench/chair are evident when back is supported by chair, feet are flat on the floor, and forearms rest on the bench at 90 degrees
  • Use chairs with lumbar support to prevent back pain
  • Keep supplies within easy reach
  • Automate microtomy if possible