The old “Stretch & Flex” idea deserves a lot of credit for improving jobsite safety over the years. Everybody would get together prior to starting work for stretching and a crew huddle to talk about the day’s activities. Stretching is good, right? Safety stats generally improved, but we wondered: was it the stretching, or the talking? Could we do better?
Over 33% of recordable injuries are sprains or strains to joints or soft tissues. Available data keeps improving, and we now understand that warming up is more effective than stretching. This is why Lewis has adopted ErgoFit’s “Shift Prep! © – Joint Stabilization” program focusing on warming muscles with selective dynamic stretching, balancing, and stabilizing movements. Like the stretching program, gathering the crew together first thing in the morning gets people in the working mindset both mentally and physically, as opposed to simply stepping out of a truck and onto a ladder.
In 2015, with some initial training, we started using ErgoFit’s established program of nine daily exercises. With group exercise, it’s important to use proven methods instead of inventing our own. The transition from stretching to warmups has now occurred on all Lewis jobsites.
The results have been significant. Joint and soft-tissue incidents in Washington fell from 19 in 2015 to five in 2016 and five in 2017.
Ramping up any exercise program takes some coaching and leading by example. At the Third & Lenora high-rise project, Site Safety Supervisor Robert Scribner (“Goat”), says it’s important to lead by example, make it fun, and make sure people understand why we do the exercises. “We set the pace, get people laughing, and start that teamwork right out of the gate.”
The Third & Lenora team has gone beyond the basic Lewis requirements about field crew participation, by including our office staff and writing subcontractor participation into our contracts. This sends a clear message about priorities. After all, shouldn’t we care about each other’s’ safety regardless of who we each work for?
The daily crew huddle remains. Every trade gets to say what they’re doing that day, helping streamline the work and avoiding overlaps. Just knowing each other as people makes a difference. The huddle takes maybe 15 minutes, varying by job, with warmups being five minutes of that.
In Portland an ongoing group gets together early at the main office as well. “It’s a great way to start the day!” says Safety Manager Tim Carpenter.
The payoff depends on what people put into it. Just going through the motions won’t warm you up properly. Some people find certain exercises difficult, but this is also part of what makes the program progressive and sustainable. We encourage everyone to do what they can and try their best. Balancing on your front foot is way easier after doing the same thing for several weeks, and you gain balance in the field too. “People get into it once they get over feeling awkward and goofy,” says Enga Cooper, a Site Safety Supervisor. “There’s a positive snowball effect.”
Winter is an especially important time to warm up before work. Cold weather means cold muscles, and that raises injury risk. Remember to drink liquids, and limit caffeine in the cold as it lowers the body’s core temperature.
So, join us in warm ups on every Lewis job! You might enjoy it, in addition to enjoying going home safely.
Steve Brennan has been our Washington Safety Director since 2007.