June 2019 Newsletter:

Stretching Programs

Occupational stretching programs could be one piece of your Musculoskeletal Prevention Program but it is not a ‘magic bullet’ to injury prevention. In fact, without a full comprehensive program you are likely to see little to no impact to your injury statistics.

The concept behind a pre-shift stretching is that warming up before physical activity is helpful at preparing our muscles for the work activities that lay ahead but the research just doesn’t support this. Studies have found that stretching does improve worker flexibility and range of motion but there is less of a direct correlation to a reduction in MSD injuries.

So why bother? The answer most likely lies in ‘soft benefits’ such as improved employee morale, increased employee engagement, greater workplace connections between staff and management and demonstration that the employer cares about employee well-being.

If you are going to begin a workplace stretching program, here are a few important considerations to help ensure success in your workplace:

Stretching Program Guidance

Any stretching program requires proper guidance and sound policy implementation as well as support and buy-in from the management team to ensure it gets off on the right foot, including:

  • Program parameters (i.e. frequency, duration of program)
  • Program goals and objectives (e.g. increased employee engagement)
  • Roles and responsibilities of employees, supervisors and managers

Remember, a stretching program requires time, which will have a direct negative impact on production time. Ensuring the management team understands this and gives the ‘thumbs up’ to workers being dedicated to 5-10 minutes of stretching each day is key.

Stretching Program Champions and Leaders

Like any initiative, a stretching program needs leaders and champions that are there to encourage participation and make it enjoyable for all. Safety leaders (e.g. JHSC members), management, and other employees could be selected as leaders of the stretching program; those who are well known and well respected are ideal candidates.

Proper Design and Implementation of the Program

Stretching programs should not be just a group of random stretches assembled and rolled out. The ideal stretching program is job/task specific and may even vary department to department within your organization. The goal is to focus on stretching the muscles within the body that experience the most strain throughout the day.

An ergonomic professional can assist with identifying which muscle groups should be target in the program, appropriate stretches for those muscle groups, and provide advice on frequency and duration for effectiveness. In addition, a professional will help ensure that the selected leaders are well-suited and prepared to instruct others in the program.

Review, Follow-Up and Continuous Improvement

Whenever we implement new programs, policies, and initiatives, it’s important to perform frequent follow-ups to ensure that they are still providing the desired outcome. You may even consider regular check-ins throughout the first year with ‘tweaks’ to the program if it’s not achieving your goal and based on employee/management feedback.

Passion and Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is key! When passion and enthusiasm are evident, it makes for greater and more enjoyable participation for all. It also helps to communicate to the workforce that the company cares about their employee’s health and safety and is attempting to build a more unified and positive culture within the workplace. So, do your part and show your enthusiasm.

Stretching programs are not going to effectively reduce injuries on their own, they need to be part of a much more robust program, but with the right design, implementation, and leadership, there may be a place for a stretching program as part of your overall MSD Prevention Program.

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