The most common category of injury at work is musculoskeletal disorders – those pesky sprain & strain injuries. These are hard to eliminate completely because humans will always be involved in work. However, a workplace stretching or warm-up practice can have a huge impact on reducing these types of injuries.
In a normal industrial setting, we ask a lot of our workers. They have to lift, push, pull, grab or pinch all day long. Even jobs that require a lot of sitting, standing or walking can cause stress on the body.
We would never expect a baseball player to swing a bat full force or run the bases without a warm-up. So why do we expect that of our workers?
It is no wonder that they strain their muscles.
Why a Workplace Stretching Program is Necessary
Having a stretching or warm-up program should be a requirement for all worksites, even office environments. If your workers are not taking care of their bodies, they are increasing the risk of injury. If that injury happens at work – the company ends up paying for it.
That is the short answer to the WHY it’s necessary.
The better answer is that it promotes healthy habits and helps you care for your employee’s health.
Lastly, they are a necessary business practice because the benefits of having a program far out-weigh the time cost it takes to daily to stretch.
Benefits of a Workplace Stretching Program
Stretching improves flexibility and mobility. This leads to more movements and better physical fitness. (let’s not kid ourselves, we aren’t going to make them yoga masters, but even a little more movement will help most people).
Stretching programs improve productivity. With increased flexibility and mobility, your employees can be more productive. Not just because they won’t be out of work due to injuries, but when you can move easier, you enjoy the work more and can work at a steadier pace.
Improved health can lead to lower healthcare costs. Employees with better mobility are less likely to injure themselves at home too – reducing insurance claims to your health insurance.
It builds a team atmosphere. People who stretch together work better together 🙂
Lastly, it can lead to healthier habits. Stretching may be the starting point that leads to increased exercise or better eating. You never know.
There are Two kinds of stretching
This is where you stretch the muscle as far as it is comfortable – not painful, but you feel a pull – and you hold it for a period of time.
How long you hold a stretch varies but the minimum is 15-20 seconds. There are some mobility programs that hold the stretch for 2-3 minutes.
Repeating static stretches for several repetitions increases mobility. Your employees will actually witness their improvement one stretch to the next. (The first time they couldn’t touch their toes, but the 3rd time they could).
The downside of static stretching is that it can cause injury if you try to stretch the muscle too much. This is more likely when stretching what is called a ‘cold’ muscle; one that hasn’t been moving or has reduced blood flow.
To prevent injury from static stretching, you always want to begin with a warm-up or dynamic stretches.
Dynamic stretching is called warming up – it is getting the muscles moving. It may not look like stretching because you are moving, but with each movement, the muscles increase blood flow and mobility.
You might be thinking that this isn’t needed. Isn’t working technically dynamic stretching?
Working is movement of the muscle and does get the blood flowing to the muscle. But work is at a higher magnitude. Dynamic stretches are doing the same movements but slower and with little to no weight.
This would be the walk before the run; the shoulder shrugs before reaching; the wrist circles before the grabbing.
Both types of stretching are important to incorporate into your routines. But always start with the dynamic ones to reduce the chances of stretching a muscle too far.
How to Create a Workplace Stretching Program
Workplace stretching or warm-up programs should be customized to the work environment. Although there are plenty of off-the-shelf programs out there, they are just a starting point. You really need to develop one specific to your work.
Ideally, hiring a specialist to do this for you is best. But this is not always in the budget.
You could reach out to your workers’ compensation insurance carrier to see if they offer this service. Many insurance programs include a Risk Management service that can help.
Even if you don’t have these options, know that you can create a program that will help your people yourself. A DIY Workplace Stretching program with the help of Google, YouTube, and your employees is better than none.
Step 1: Assess Your Working Environment
Watch your people work and make note of the movements their bodies make during the workday.
The different movements you may see include:
- Walking, Sitting, Standing
- Squatting, Crawling, Bending
- Reaching forward, up or down
- Pushing, pulling
- Grasping with hand or fine motor movement with fingers
- Static holds
Static holds are when their bodies or a part of their body stays in the same position for an extended period of time. Think of a person sitting at a computer – their head, shoulders, back, and wrists remain in the same position for a while.
Also, examine your JHAs and ergonomic evaluations, if you have them. These can give you insight into the stressor that your employees are exposed to. Become aware of how much weight they are lifting, pulling, or pushing; how long they are reaching overhead or grasping.
Get a complete assessment of the work and movements employees make throughout the day.
Step 2: Identify the Muscles that Are Used Most Often
Now that you have observed your people. Put the movements, static holds, and stressors in order of frequency. You want to identify what they’re doing most often so you can customize your program to address these areas more.
Next, identify the muscles or joints that each one of these effects. For example, lifting a box off a conveyor belt involves the back, shoulders, and hands for grasping.
Survey your people and get their input. The best question to ask is: When it’s a heavy workday, where do you feel sore the next day? This is an indicator of a muscle group that is getting worked out.
Step 3: Google is Your Friend
Do a Google search for both dynamic and static stretches for each muscle group and joint. Create a library of possible stretches.
Don’t forget to search on YouTube as well. There are countless videos of stretches, you can use in your program.
Some of the best ones you can come up with are ones that mimic the movements they make while working. Having them do these movements with no weight or little resistance is a great way to warm up those muscles.
For static positions, find stretches that move their bodies in the opposite direction. If their shoulders are held forward, then do shrugs going backward.
Step 4: Create Routines
Out of all your Google research, piece together various routines that are working on all the muscle groups used in their work daily.
- Always start with dynamic stretches
- Work from the largest muscles to the small ones (do the quads before the calves, before the ankles)
- For muscles that are used more frequently, add in additional stretches.
- Include both static and dynamic stretches
Creating multiple routines so that every day or week your people can have a different warm-up. This is needed not only to make it more fun and interesting for your employees, but it is also important for the muscles.
Doing the same stretches every day results in reduced benefits over time. The body gets used to the work. But when you mix it up daily or weekly, it allows the muscles to have enough variation to see improvement over time.
Even when two stretches are working the same muscle, the slight difference between the two types of stretches activates the muscles differently. This creates improvement.
Other Types of Routines to create
- Mini Stretch Breaks – encouraging your people to stretch while they are working will help reduce injuries as well. A short 30-sec to 1 minute stop to do a static stretch will keep the benefits of the morning warm-up going throughout the day.
- Relief Stretches – we can’t always move in the perfect ergonomic way; this is more harmful when lifting. But be doing a relief stretch, you can reduce the risk of injury. Relief stretches are either dynamic or static mini stretch breaks done right after a strenuous movement. Like a backbend after a bad lift, or wrist circles after a heavy load.
Step 5: Determine Frequency
Most workplace stretching programs are done at the start of the shift. This once a day approach has worked for many companies.
However, don’t limit yourself to this idea only. Depending upon the work, you can decide on having stretching periods more than once a day. Let your trending decide what is needed.
During breaks, the muscles may cool down. If you are having a lot of afternoon strains or sprains, an additional “after lunch” stretching routine may help solve that problem.
If your people need a reminder to stretch, having a bell or buzzer that rings and having everyone stop at the same time to do a mini stretch could work. This is especially helpful when the work involves a lot of static holds or fine motor grasping.
If you don’t already have a workplace stretching program, then don’t hesitate to take action to put one in place.
If you already have one, take a moment to evaluate how well it’s performing. Are you varying the routines? Are the stretches related to the movements of the work? Are they stretching long enough? This evaluation is necessary even with the best programs. It’s very easy for warm-up leaders to get complacent.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
This week we discussed how to create a program. Be sure to check out next week’s post on how to launch the program you created. I will share ideas on how to make it engaging so you get a great participation rate.
In the meantime, be sure to share this post with your management team and your best safety friend by clicking one of those handy share buttons on this page.
Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)! I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience. Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world. I would love to help you too.