Southeast Directional Drilling employees begin each morning with a fun and effective ‘stretch and flex’ program to help combat work related musculoskeletal disorders.
Sometimes referred to as ergonomic or soft tissue injuries, the most common WMSD’s in construction are lower back, neck/shoulder and knee according to an American Society of Safety Engineers (page 26). A sprain is classified as a stretch and/or tear of a ligament while a strain is an injury to either a muscle or a tendon. OSHA points out that “work related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time” and one third of all injuries and illnesses in 2013 were comprised of sprains, strains and tears per the Bureau of Labor Statistics chart 10. Additionally, Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorders (WMSD) account for $45 to $54 billion annually in lost wages, productivity and compensation costs according to figures from the National Academies Press, Sciences Engineering and Medicine and the CDC.
Since WMSD’s are expensive and detrimental to any business, it’s important to use everything in your preventative arsenal to curb them. That’s why Southeast Directional Drilling (SEDD) precedes two daily safety briefings with their morning warm up. This is right on track according to an abstract from an article in the ‘Journal of Safety Research’ where authors Linda M. Goldenhar and Pete Stafford say stretch and flex programs “should be only one component of a more comprehensive ergonomics prevention program.” The article also notes that when included with daily safety ‘huddles’ stretch and flex can improve worker camaraderie and communication.
So with these accompanying assets, it’s no surprise that ‘stretch and flex’ is gaining popularity in the construction industry. In Ergonomics Plus, author Matt Middlesworth writes that “Pre-shift stretching and warm-up exercises reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries by reducing fatigue, improving muscular balance and posture, and improving muscle coordination.” US Healthworks touts that the program is “critical” and can ease the risk of injuries and increase productivity.
The idea is that if an employee is more flexible, they’re less likely to suffer an injury. Scientific studies that specifically show stretching can reduce on the job injuries are sparse but they are out there. There is evidence from abstracts in The National Center for Biotechnology Information. The first by authors Holmström E and Ahlborg B. states “a short dose of morning warming-up exercise could be beneficial for increasing or maintaining joint and muscle flexibility” while in another in the Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, Bruno R. da Costa and Edgar Ramos Vieira conclude their review of literature “demonstrated some beneficial effect of stretching in preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders.”
The Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health cites studies evaluating stretching programs of three entities – pharmaceutical, fire fighters and manual handling workers. All three studies did show that stretching improves flexibility, and of particular interest, the fire fighter participants’ time loss costs were $45,597 while costs for those who did not participate in the program was $147,581, a noticeable reduction.
Another study of a manufacturing facility is discussed in the article “The Benefits of Stretching” in Occupational Health & Safety, by Scott Ege, P.T., M.S . During this study “stretch coaches” were trained by a licensed, physical therapist. Then, stretch groups were made up of six to twelve employees, and surveys were given. Employees rated the program on average as ‘very positive’ and the company did not have any lost workday cases in the year 2007.
The general consensus is that even more studies need to be done, and additional data collected to further prove the value of stretching & flexing prior to a physically demanding job. However, just an employee’s perception of it might be reason enough. In a study of 315 construction workers, researchers Sang D. Choi and Sathy Rajendran found “workers perceived there were other SF program benefits such as increased alertness and focus, communication, team building, improved flexibility, and safety planning.”
For some guidelines on developing a stretch and flex program, EHS Compliance has an informative ‘Stretch and Flex’ outline that explains how to proceed. Plus, it’s always a good idea to check in with your physician before beginning any exercise program.