A friend recently mentioned that his workplace was implementing a warm-up/stretching requirement at the beginning of shift. It appeared that the program was being met with some raised eyebrows and even some verbal resistance from employees. The workplace was one of physical labour and so, once you get past the novelty of the idea, common sense suggests this may be a good idea.
Occupational health and safety laws in Canada all have general duties imposed on employers “to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker”, or something similar. Considering that in virtually every province musculoskeletal injuries are the foremost lost time workplace injury affecting workers in all types of workplaces, workplace warm-up and stretching programs may be an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure, especially with an aging workforce.
Despite my earlier comment about the novelty of the idea, workplace warm-up and stretching programs are not that novel. In fact most provinces have produced resources to assist employers and employees in this regard — see for example, Worksafe New Brunswick’s “Warm-Up and Stretch” pamphlet online. And there are a number of articles available online highlighting the success of such programs – see this article in Occupational Health and Safety Magazine, Volume 23, Number 3, September 2000. It seems that such programs not only help to prevent injury but may also increase morale, productivity and team building.
The issue for employers, however, is despite an unquestionable benefit to the prevention of injury, can an employer force employees to participate in such a program, or even more important, should it? As with most workplace policy issues, employers must find the way to ensure employee buy-in to the program, rather than strict enforcement. Employers should involve employees and the JHSC in assessing the physical demands of the work and educating employees regarding the reduction in workplace injuries which may result.
In designing a program employers should consult with a workplace exercise therapist to ensure the program is suitable and effective for the types of movements employees make on the job and to ensure that employees are properly trained to do the movements and understand how the movements improve performance and prevent injury. Any program must also be considerate of employees’ physical limitations or required accommodations.
Employers are reminded however, that implementing such a program is no substitute for their ongoing responsibilities to ensure that all work is as ergonomically safe as possible by assessing and modifying physical environment and work practices as necessary and encouraging employees to express concerns about possible injury or strain with supervisors.
Look for a sample policy on “Workplace Wellness” in the Human Resources PolicyPro in the future.
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