- Neil Wilson CRSP, OMT, PKin, CEP
Mitigating risk and supporting injury prevention through programs that contribute to the safe work and wellness of workers, on and off the job site, is crucial in our industry. In recent years, we have seen these practices drastically improve injury occurrence, but the risk for injury remains. The importance of increasing awareness to support workers and their overall dimensional health should be a top priority for all employers.
We tend to see injuries fall into two categories on sites. The first is acute or traumatic in nature, resulting from a cause-effect relationship, such as a twisted ankle and subsequent sprain. The second, known as musculoskeletal disorders (MSD), occurs as a result of musculoskeletal dysfunction which refers to body alignment and tissues that are misaligned from their natural-designed position. These tissues are then continually stressed causing weakness, thus decreasing the ability to function and absorb force. Similar to principles in Industrial Hygiene, there is a threshold limit value (TLV) that continues to be reduced. At any point where the TLV is exceeded by load, which are the forces required of the tissue, or volume which further fatigues the dysfunctional tissues, an injury can occur, generally defined and recognized by the worker feeling pain.
It is imperative to support the prevention of these types of injuries and to promote participation from workers well before they set foot on site. The success of these programs is founded on communication, and the early recognition of ergonomics or physical environment, symptoms, and behaviours that directly impact the outcome.
MITIGATING INJURY RISK THROUGH ALL DIMENSIONS OF HEALTH - FOUNDATIONS OF ERGONOMICS
Much of the work required to keep our most valuable asset, our workers, successful and free of injury on-site takes place off-site. This includes ensuring proper rest, nutrition, and adequate support of mental and physical health.1 Many extended benefit programs offer paramedical services that provide access to professionals including chiropractors, physical therapists, osteopaths, massage therapists, dieticians, psychologists, and naturopathic doctors, to name a few. At Stuart Olson, we provide regular reminders, resources, and education for employees on these important topics, and on-site, teams utilize ‘Toolbox Talks’ to encourage an open dialogue and culture that puts health and safety at the forefront of everything we do. Below are just a few ways we promote dimensional health:
Sleep is critical and we regularly discuss the importance of rest and remind our teams that the average person requires 7 to 9 hours of sleep to avoid entering an ongoing sleep deficit. In theory, this deficit can only be sustained for a maximum of 48 hours before it begins to cause fatigue and dysfunction, directly impacting health, safety, and performance both on and off-site.2
Psychological Health is an integral part of a company's HSE and HR programs. The current climate of the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting people at varying degrees and, for many, support is needed now more than ever. In addition to our regular resource sharing and our Employee and Family Assistance Program, our Supervisors and Leadership recently participated in a Mental Health Webinar to ensure they are equipped with the tools required to support their teams.
Movement is one area where employers can affect change and see immediate return on investment. Movement is the foundation of the all injury prevention programs I develop, known as the musculoskeletal dynamic warm-up and stretch program. These programs are built and executed under the principle of developmental movement patterns. The neurological activation of the movement patterns allows the fascial chains to move freely without dysfunction. Fascial chains are the connective tissue between all parts of the body, particularly muscles and organs. When one area of the body is under fascial stress/dysfunction, it can, and will affect many other areas of the body as it compensates to manage that dysfunction, in turn reducing the threshold capacity (increasing risk of injury). Since implementing movement supplemented with static stretching micro-breaks throughout the workday, we have seen a significant increase in our workers’ involvement, and the positive effects felt as they have prepared the body for the rigours of each workday. Morning warm-up movement activities can also benefit the workers psychologically3 as it fosters social connection, comradery, and movement which scientifically makes you feel good.4
As leaders, we all play a role in supporting the health and safety of our workers, peers, and ourselves on site. To do this right, we truly need to maintain balance among all dimensions of health and wellness and to encourage this across the board. This can aid with reducing chance of injury both on and off-site, improve psyche, and can be vital in maintaining adequate immune health. Your program can be successful if you define the purposes of each activity and continually educate the workforce on the “why”.
1. Bergquist, K., Dr. (n.d.). RESEARCH - Injury Prevention & Employee Resilience Services. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.oobliq.com/research
2. Bubbs, M., Dr. (2019). Peak: The New Science of Athletic Performance That Is Revolutionizing Sports. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
3. Stearns, M. Feb 01, 2017. (n.d.). Workplace Stretching Programs. Occupational Health & Safety. https://ohsonline.com/articles/2017/02/01/workplace-stretching-programs.aspx.
4. McGonigal, K., Dr. (2019). The joy of movement: How exercise helps us find happiness, hope, connection, and courage. New York, NY: Avery.