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Healthy workers sustain fewer injuries on the job

August 25, 2015
 / Safety / 

Accidents are a constant concern for workers, and even when safety measures are put in place, injuries can still occur. Oftentimes an accident or an injury leads to the implementation of new policies or construction safety products that seek to prevent a mistake like that from happening again. And while these approaches are important, they are also typically applied reactively.

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Even with safety measures in place, accidents can happen from workers being out of shape.

Certainly there are measures in place to prevent accidents from happening that were in place before such an accident even occurred, but mostly it is the other way around. As industry professionals put effort into establishing safety policies and procedures to prevent injuries, they should go beyond the potential hazards of equipment, materials and heights, and focus as well on the individual workers themselves.

"Being in shape means having the ability to respond and adapt to surrounding environmental factors."

Even if all necessary safety measures are put in place and a job site is meeting all requirements, a worker who is tired, stressed or malnourished can still sustain an injury - or cause an injury to be inflicted on another. From lifting objects to having coordination and awareness when operating machinery, a worker who is well-rested and not weighed down by stress is going to perform better. This is not only better and safer for the individual, but for entire team.

All accidents can't be seen
When many people think of accidents on the construction site they think of visible physical injuries, such as falling or incurring a wound from a piece of machinery. What is less thought of are those issues that are developing over time and don't make themselves prevalent right away.

According to a study by the Institute of Sports Sciences and Clinical Biomechanics, when repeated physical demands of a job outweigh a worker's physical capacity - or when workers are pushing themselves beyond their means - the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders greatly increase.

When a worker is developing these conditions, he or she might not even be aware of them and might just assume their muscles are sore, take an Advil and get back to work. But the reality is that these conditions can continue to cause problems further down the road if not addressed. And how can workers address cardiovascular and muscular conditions they aren't aware of? The answer is preparing for them with exercise and nutrition.

Exercise is crucial
Being fit is not the same as being able to lift heavy objects and climb ladders. Actually, being in excellent physical shape means being able to respond and adapt to the surrounding environmental conditions. By exercising - if only stretching in the morning before beginning work - construction crews can significantly reduce the number of these injuries before they develop.

The Sports Sciences and Clinical Biomechanics study came up with results revealing that if workers spend just 20 minutes engaging in aerobic exercise three times a week, they could increase their oxygen consumption throughout the day. By building a higher capacity of oxygen intake, it helps prevent cardiometabolic disorders. Everyone is aware of the need for oxygen, but many people don't realize that an increased capacity for oxygen in the lungs can prevent disease, according to the Lung Institute. This is because oxygen populates the blood stream, and when people are able to intake more at a time, they are essentially refreshing their blood stream, making it flow better, which increases overall functionality.

Be proactive when it comes to health, not reactive.Workers need to be physically and mentally in shape for the good of their team.

Along the same lines, these exercises should include stretching. There are many people who attribute stretching to a sort of formality that really doesn't do much aside from getting the blood flowing. This is not the case, however. By stretching before a shift, workers are prepping their bodies and opening up their muscles to withstand a day of endurance. When muscles and tendons are tight, they can tear and rip.

Many construction crews have routine stretches they perform in the morning, with some even having the practice as a standard policy. For example, Jorge Moros, project executive of the Florida-based Skanska Construction Group, told a local news source that stretching every morning is more than a routine, "It's a way of thinking."

"Workers can sustain mental injuries as well as physical."

In fact, this particular crew has made quite an impression on the industry, with Considerate Constructors highlighting their morning routine as well. The source noted the practice became more than a smart idea, but developed into the Injury Free Environment Initiative. The daily routine only takes 10 minutes, but was developed by a professional trainer and the workers who participate in the program have overall seen improvement with how they feel throughout the day.

Injuries aren't just physical
While focus on morning stretch routines continues to expand, it is important to recognize that stress and mental strain can also be debilitating for workers. Further, it can lead to distracted workers on the job site, as they have other things straining their thinking. This can get in the way of performing a duty correctly.

A study conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health noted when workers are mentally strained their work is greatly affected, as well as their well-being. For example, in addition to having a higher rate of physical injuries than other industry professionals, construction workers who sustain injuries are also 45 percent more likely to be diagnosed with depression than workers who do not incur injuries. This depression can then get in the way when these workers return to the job, putting themselves and others at risk.

According to the study: "Mental distress is often characterized by cognitive impairment, such as concentration and memory problems, and can thus act as a mediator between safety attitudes and injuries. Distracted workers tend to pay less attention to safety practices, which increases the risk of accidents and injuries."

"Taking regular breaks gives the mind a rest and improves overall efficiency."

Breaks instill efficient attitudes
The mind is a muscle, and like all muscles, it can easily become strained. Also like other muscles, once strain occurs it requires rest to get back to its proper functionality. Breaks are hugely important for any job, but especially when there is heavy equipment and reliance on each other to be safe.

According to Fast Company, workers with the highest productivity don't work longer hours than others, but actually took regular breaks throughout the day. By giving their minds a rest, they were able to return to the job after each break and work more efficiently. While the source is considering workers in the private business sector, the evidence regarding the mind's ability to be energized is a human condition, not an industry-specific one. A more productive brain is one that is well-rested. And when it comes to operating equipment, handling heavy loads and being responsible for the safety of fellow workers, the highest functioning minds and bodies should be the goal at the beginning of each day.

Food is fuel
The last piece to the recipe is eating the proper foods. Getting doughnuts every morning because they are fast is not the way to go. A body burns through sugar quickly, leaving workers depleted throughout the day. According to Vital Health Zone, construction workers need to consume carbohydrates, protein and fats in correct ratios to have energy throughout the day. This applies to physical energy as much as mental.

Eating eggs, nuts, yogurt or avocados every morning is how workers should start the day. By getting off to a good start, the body will be fueled and ready to go. Additionally, it will begin to crave these full foods as the day goes on and will start to shy away from empty calories.

Construction workers need to take care of their health for their own good and the betterment of the team. In a time when eating on the go is easy and breaks are considered inefficient, construction workers need to take a step back, slow down and make sure they are treating their bodies and minds correctly.

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