Work-related injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) disrupt an organization’s bottom line like nothing else. Besides being short-handed, this means employees are covering for their injured—and now absent—coworkers which keeps them from performing the tasks they’ve been charged with. Productivity and therefore, the bottom line, suffer.
So what can be done? Work-related injuries are just part of doing business, right? Not necessarily. By performing a few simple warm-up exercises, your employees can be on their way to an injury-free and productive shift.
Know What You’re Up Against
The Occupational Safety and Health Standard Administration says MSDs and RSIs are the two leading causes of lost workday illnesses and injuries. Common MSDs and RSIs that plague the workplace include tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis, muscle strains, and rotator cuff and lower back injuries. These medical issues cause adverse changes to the body through impaired dexterity, limited range of motion, impinged nerves, inhibition of blood and lymphatic circulation, poor posture, tight muscles and a range of other physical problems that ultimately impede an employee’s ability to work. Work-related risk factors that exacerbate these issues include heavy lifting, pulling and pushing heavy loads, performing repetitive tasks and working in awkward body positioning, among many others.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, MSDs and RSIs accounted for one third of all illness and injury cases in 2013, which translated to 35.8 days away from work per 10,000 full-time employees. Employees who sustain these types of injuries require an average of 11 days to recuperate before returning to work. To put this in perspective, the Institute of Medicine estimates the economic burden of this problem, as measured by lost productivity, compensation costs and lost wages, is approximately $45-$54 billion every year.
Staying In The Game
Sports science has long posited that warming up before rigorous physical activity gives the body the resilience and strength to handle the physical demands that come with the task. So why not use that same approach in the workplace?
Contrary to conventional thinking, a warm up is not merely stretching. In fact, studies show stretching alone is very ineffective in reducing injuries and may even increase the risk for injury. Stretching isn’t a bad thing, but it really does nothing more than push and pull the joints and doesn’t adequately warm the body up for the strenuous activity ahead.
For warm-up programs to be effective, they must be customized to the kind of activity the worker is engaged in. Also, it has to start with simple movements before gradually moving to complex movements, and should require workers to warm up their large muscles before their smaller muscles.
The body will exhibit physiological changes during the warm up that will effectively transition it from a relaxed to a more task-ready state. This will reduce work-related injuries and fatigue, while promoting overall corporate wellness. Results of the warm up will include:
- Increased blood circulation
- Loosened tendons, fascia and ligaments
- Increased cellular metabolism
- Enhanced psychological readiness
- Primed somatic and sympathetic nervous system
- Dilated lungs and warmed up muscular system
With all these physiological changes in place after warming up, the body is better equipped and more prepared to take on the task at hand, effectively reducing any incidence of work-related injuries. That means more time on the field and less time on the disabled list.
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