Remember when you used to have to stretch before games when playing sports as a kid? Stretching is meant to keep your muscles limber and decrease your chances of pulling them under strain. We all know this, but as we get older we tend to ignore some of the health precautions we were asked to take as children even if we continue engaging in regular physical activity. In many production jobs, where repetitive motions are inevitable and muscle injuries are common, stretching can actually play a huge role in your injury prevention programs.
A little over 10 years ago, I was going to college and was employed through a temp agency for a manufacturing company working on an assembly line. The company specialized in producing riding lawn mowers, meaning that we were often tasked with moving semi-heavy parts from station to station. While I was lucky enough to escape any hardships much worse than sore arms at the end of my first couple weeks of employment, not all of my coworkers were so lucky. The branch of this particular business was new, and some of the workers were inexperienced, leading to two fairly serious cases of back muscle injuries within the first year of operations.
In response, our safety manager decided to start implementing stretching breaks for about ten minutes for every four hours of work, or twice per day. Basically, the work floor would take a quick break and he would lead us through a variety of stretches. While the interruption to our work time was minimal, the benefits seemed well worth it. The company had fewer injuries for the next two years, and workers reported consistently feeling better/more comfortable both during and after their work days. I can certainly attest to no longer having work-related soreness for the remainder of my time with the company as well.
A year later I found myself with another company in a completely different industry, and in a new position. I went to my boss with the suggestion that we implement stretch breaks for our workers as well as part of our safety program. Unsurprisingly, I was met with some resistance from upper management, who feared losing 15 to 20 minutes of production time each day from their entire staff. In the end, I was able to add stretching breaks into my safety plan, but not until I’d outlined the benefits for them in a detailed manner. I’ve included a few below:
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Alleviate neck and shoulder pain: In most assembly-line type jobs, workers are looking down most of the day which can cause neck pain and cramping. Stretch breaks targeting these muscles groups can help to loosen them and give them a break from being in the same position for an extended period of time.
Avoiding Injuries from Repetitive Actions: In a world increasingly dependent on typing and texting, carpal tunnel and other hand-related injuries are becoming more and more common. In the workplace, these symptoms can be brought about through doing the same actions over and over again when assembly parts or working a station. Hand and finger stretches can help to not only prevent new cases but also help manage symptoms for those already afflicted.
Re-Focusing Time: When doing the same thing for 8-10 hours per day, workers can easily zone out and work on a sort of autopilot that puts them at risk for making mistakes; these mistakes can lead to all kinds of injuries. Stretching breaks give workers a chance to take their minds off what they’re doing for a few minutes and re-focus. In this way, stretching can help prevent injuries and incidents completely unrelated to muscle strain as well.
How to Implement Stretching Breaks Successfully
In order to start stretch breaks in your business, you may want to consider the following points to make sure that your regimen effectively addresses the injury risks most relevant to your employees:
Make your exercises specific to the types of actions that your workers do throughout the day. If no one is tasked with intricate assembly techniques or hours of typing, then stretches targeting fingers and hand joints aren’t relevant. Add stretches that will assist your workers the most and remove those that don’t make sense in order to maximize the effectiveness of your stretching breaks. By extension, you can make different stretching regimens for different workers if their job descriptions vary greatly.
Find adequate space: Make sure that your employees have room to spread out when stretching. Trying to do everything on the work floor, depending on your setup, can be dangerous for workers if they bump into equipment or each other.
Make stretching breaks optional, but have waivers signed for those and elect not to partake. It is understandable why some employees may not want to stand around in a group and be lead through a series of stretches, but if that’s the case they need to indicate in writing that they understand they are opting out of part of the safety program.
The beauty of integrating a stretching regiment into your safety protocols is that the payoff is so gigantic compared to the cost – it doesn’t cost you anything to start as you don’t need any specific materials or outside training, and any costs incurred from lost time are negligible compared to the prevention of just one injury. As long as your program is tailored to your employees and well-implemented, you should have another great and easy to use tool in your safety arsenal!