Never before have our clients experienced a shutdown period of this duration. This many workers have never taken so long away from physical work, all at the same time. We’d love to think that the lengthy furlough has meant hours in the home gym, extra walks with the kids, and yoga in front of the TV. But our own personal experience suggests otherwise.
What happens when a human body takes a 2 or 3 month break from physically demanding work?
- The cardiovascular system adapts, but not in a good way. In much the same way as our systems rise to the challenge of increased activity by getting stronger and more efficient, our hearts and lungs become deconditioned with lack of activity. Workers who could walk, lift, and carry all day will have diminished capacity.
- Our strength decreases as well, at roughly the same pace as we earned it. If it took you 8 weeks to strengthen for a specific job, and you were off for 8 weeks, you can consider yourself starting from scratch.
- Our flexibility also declines – we might have been able to reach to the back of the bin, or pick up a part from the floor with relative ease, but now that same activity might set off a spasm or a strain.
How can we bring millions of workers back to work without spiking musculoskeletal injury rates? It won’t be easy. We encourage companies to:
- Start urging employees to build up their tolerance to walking, lifting, pushing, and gripping, before they return to work. It’s in everyone’s interest to do this!
- When they come back, consider bringing employees in for shortened shifts, or extend the work breaks during the day, if possible. Allow time for wiping down workstations and greeting co-workers from a distance. Think about how we SHOULD start baseball or gardening season (in contrast to how we TYPICALLY launch into these activities!) A gradual return to work, often called “work hardening” is an effective way to allow bodies to adapt to new demands.
- Remind employees that we’re all in this together. Everyone’s job looks a bit different, but even relatively sedentary workers will be uncomfortable in the first few weeks, and we can all expect a few minor aches and pains at the end of the day.
- Send employees off with a quick stretch every day. Lengthening tight muscles might help to avoid the aches and pains that crop op on the day following a sudden return to activity or active work.
- Encourage employees to tell you how they’re feeling, and do your best to accommodate, before injuries arise. It’s better to move an employee to a lighter job for a few days, than to allow the injury to progress.
We’ve created a send-home challenge for employers who want to encourage employees to build up work tolerance before they come back into the workplace. Find in it our store!
Looking for stretching and strengthening posters? You’ll find stretching posters in our store. We’re building up to the strengthening posters. 🙂