It’s 6 AM and I am leading the morning stretches in a manufacturing facility. It takes about five to ten minutes. After that, we'll cap it off with a short safety talk. We begin every day like this, and it has significantly reduced muscle strain and pull injuries.

Why Stretching Is Important

When you sleep, your heart rate slows to an average of 60 to 100 beats per minute. This is your resting heart rate. In well-conditioned athletes, it can be as low as 40. Your heart rate tends to be at its lowest right before we wake up.

Your muscles are stiff and tight from the night's rest and need to be warmed up. Muscles and tendons need controlled movement to transition from static sleep mode to dynamic daytime activities.

Your brain is awake from the alarm clock (well, sort of) but your body needs to wake up, too. If you do too much movement while your muscles are stiff and tight, you're more likely to get injured. Before you engage in any vigorous activity, your muscles need to be warmed up and you need to increase our blood circulation.

(Learn about the Top Ergonomic Issues in the Workplace.)

Watch your pet dog or cat get up from a long nap, and they will often yawn and stretch. This is called pandiculating (our big word of the day). Animals do it instinctively, and we will often pandiculate in the morning, as well. And for good reason: it feels good and it increases blood flow throughout the body. Yawning helps you take in more oxygen and stretching increases blood circulation.

Most athletes warm up before getting into serious training. If you have a job that involves a lot of movement, it is a good idea to adopt an athletic mindset and warm up before work.

Implementing a Stretching Program

When I first heard that our factory was going to implement a stretching program, I didn't think anyone would go for it.

I was wrong.

After we went over the benefits of stretching, employees began stretching before the shift and throughout the day.

(For related reading, see 5 Reasons You Struggle with Safety Buy-In.)

We are creatures of habit. Once you begin a stretching routine, it quickly becomes normal. Keep the stretches simple and basic. You're warming up your body for a day’s work, not preparing for the Olympics. The goal is to warm up the muscles and increase blood flow. Go through some light movements that mimic the movements required for actual work.

Have a physical therapist review your work activities and design a basic stretching program for your employees. This should support your ergonomics efforts as well as promote employee health and well-being. Stretching as a group each morning is a great way to kick the day off with a focus on safety.

Work Stretching Programs and OSHA

According to OSHA, 30% of non-fatal occupational injuries are work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This is one reason why ergonomics gets so much attention. The financial impact of MSDs is $20 billion annually in direct workers' compensation costs.

Unfortunately, there is very little data from studies that verify the effectiveness of work stretching programs in reducing MSDs. A 2003 review of three different studies failed to show conclusive evidence that they are.

(Learn about the Top 5 Ways to End Up with a Musculoskeletal Disorder.)

Despite this lack of data, stretching programs are growing in popularity. OSHA also believes that stretching and flexibility programs show merit when used to supplement ergonomic programs. And I have seen first-hand the benefits of workplace stretching from the programs I have been involved with.

Stretching for an Aging Workforce

Here's another fact worth thinking about. According to the CDC, by 2020 about 25% of the workforce with be over the age of 55.

MSDs take time to manifest. EHS professionals are looking for ways to protect an aging workforce and lower their rates of MSDs.

Stretching programs are getting a lot of attention as a positive measure we can take today to protect workers throughout their work lives.

Start Your Work Day by Stretching

Stretching is easy, affordable, and beneficial.

So, it's time to take a lesson from our furry, pandiculating friends and give our muscles a good stretch before we start our work.