Is it too much of a stretch for tradies to look after their bodies?
At 6.30am every Monday, when most of Australia is still struggling to get out of bed, the staff of Laser Plumbing Vermont are already tucking into a team breakfast to start the week with big goals and ambition fixed firmly in place. All staff have breakfast together, followed by a staff development meeting and then a whole body stretch session, which has recently been incorporated into the routine.
Staff have been shown how to stretch the areas of the body that are important for the tasks they perform on a daily basis, with particular target areas related to their daily tasks. This is just part of an intensive health and wellbeing program put into effect by Laser Plumbing Vermont’s former Client Engagement Officer, Nicole Back, whose background in sports science and consulting was great inspiration to get the team moving on a Monday and well into the week.
While there has been a significant decrease in the number of workplace incidents in the past decade, tradies are still far more likely to be injured at work than most employees. According to Nicole’s research, plumbing is second only to carpentry as the trade with the greatest number of injury claims. The most common work place claims are for body stress injuries (33 per cent), which is greater than injuries resulting from falls, trips and slips and being hit by objects. Of body stress injuries, a little over half occur while lifting/ carrying objects, but the rest occur while doing other work-related tasks.
Historically, the safety focus has been on the environment and ensuring the technicians’ surroundings are suitable and safe for work. Rarely has there been emphasis on whether the body is suitable for the work, possibly with the exception of establishing a good lifting technique. As a part of addressing safety holistically, Laser Plumbing Vermont decided it was necessary to pay more attention to looking after their bodies. Flexibility and strength are both vital components of a body to perform the tasks required as a tradie, safely.
There’s a ‘stretch corner’ in the factory that is equipped with yoga mats, massage balls and rollers. They have also provided each staff member with a mobile stretching pack to keep in their cars, encouraging stretching on site and at home. While this is just one small initiative that aims to improve flexibility, it was part of a bigger strategy to both normalise and prioritise tradies looking after their bodies in an industry that often has a ‘she’ll be right’ and ‘toughen up’ type of attitude. It was Laser’s objective for the technicians to have:
a Long and successful careers in the trade
b Functional bodies that allow them to achieve all their personal goals outside of work
c Quality of life well into older age.
Changing these long-standing attitudes that are ingrained in certain lines of work and attempting to break down barriers that prevent individuals from engaging in new and different ways of doing things is a long and complicated process. But by making changes slowly and taking small steps in the right direction continually, it is achievable.
Stretching on a Monday morning is now a normal part of the routine as an employee at Laser Plumbing Vermont and many have responded positively to the change. One employee commented “stretches have benefited me by assisting with my flexibility, and also helping with long term sporting injuries”. Another team leader noted the positive impacts of the program in life both in and outside of work: “Monday morning stretching has been very beneficial to me as it’s taught me how important it is to look after our bodies in our line of work. It’s helped me put together my own daily stretching plan too.”
Office Manager Rhonda Dove has also seen other work-place benefits that have come out of the program “Not only do we see the benefits of stretching, it is an activity that the whole team takes part in together. It is light-hearted and fun and everyone notices each other’s achievements when flexibility improves”.
And it doesn’t end there. Taking it upon themselves to do more than just accept the alarming statistic that office workers spend over 90 per cent of their day sitting down, Laser Plumbing Vermont have embarked on an admirable crusade against sedentary behaviour. We can all take heed of this good advice and think about putting it into practice in our workplace, whether you are on site, on the road or in the office.
Laser Plumbing Vermont’s easy tips to keep your workplace active:
- Parking further away from the office door – the walk could make a great start to your day
- Setting up computer reminders to stand and move each half hour – just a few minutes away from your desk can give you fresh perspective
- Create a space that is an inviting place to eat lunch to encourage staff to take lunch away from their desks and socialise – whether you are in a factory or a job site, making the time to do this can pay dividends
- Conduct standing and walking meetings – dare to try something different!
- Purchase a high collaborative table where individuals could stand and work throughout the day
- Get a fresh fruit bowl in the office for a healthy, ready to go snack available to all
- Create fun movement choices around the office. Laser Plumbing Vermont’s DIY hop scotch course on the way to the bathroom and hula hoops stashed next to the microwave to get the hips moving may not work for everyone, but it’s certainly food for thought
- Start a weekly movement/light exercise session for staff to participate together – General Manager of Laser Plumbing Vermont Phill Craig noted an improved mood and ‘an increase on the giggle-o-meter half an hour before staff have their weekly movement session.‘
- Employ the mantra ‘move more, sit less.’
If you are involved in the trade industry, why not use this example to reconsider your approach to workplace safety? Ask yourself, do you have practices in place that focus on keeping your employees safe, mobile and functional? Are employees encouraged to look after their bodies or is there more of a ‘just get on with the job’ type of culture? It has been shown that there are numerous benefits for businesses in looking after their employees’ health and wellbeing.
Some Master Plumbers Members are so on board with this idea that they’ve even installed full gyms in their workplace. Laser Plumbing Vermont has a drum kit in their common room – that’s certainly one way to release frustration. No matter how you are aligned, there is always a way to make your workplace a healthier one. From communal ‘healthy’ lunch days to running clubs and group exercise, there are so many ways to motivate your workplace.
It’s high time we all got active!
“This initiative has definitely had a positive impact on our team. Since starting stand up meetings everyone is a lot more engaged and assertive, instead of zoning in and out. I have also noticed everyone encouraging each other to stand up, stretch and take lunch breaks away from desks which is promoting a supportive team environment.” Rhonda Dove, Laser Plumbing Vermont Office Manager.