Monday, November 10, 2008

Before Building, Some Stretching And Flexing

“The dozens of beefy men gather in a dark room, bending their knees, rolling their shoulders, and stretching to prepare for the day ahead. But this is no exercise room at the gym – it’s a Somerville construction site. The men work for Skanska U.S.A. Building Inc., an international construction company. Instead of sweatbands and running shoes, they wear flannel shirts and nylon vests. The workers are doing ‘Stretch and Flex,’ a morning routine the company’s local branch implemented a few years ago to help prevent injury. ‘We look at it more of a mindset than a set of rules,’ said Lou Guarino, a field engineer who leads the exercises at the Somerville site. ‘It’s a mindset that the worker is going to come to work and work safely.’ Guarino said the crew meets at 6:30 a.m. in an empty room on the job site and stretches for about 15 minutes before work begins. He said he initially had some doubts about doing the routine. The exercise ‘brings everybody together in the morning,’ he said. ‘It helps the project move smoothly if everybody gets to know each other.’ Paul Hewins, the company’s executive vice president and general manager for New England, said they started the program a few years ago following an occurrence of soft-tissue injuries at one branch. ‘Right away, we all realized that you start with [the program] in the morning, you become more aware of your surroundings,’ Hewins said. Guarino said the exercises offer social and physical benefits. By warming up in the morning, workers are less prone to injury. Injury prevention is a high priority at Skanska, he said. The company participated in ‘Global Safety Week’ this week in addition to its regular efforts to prevent injuries. While the company has not updated statistics on the number of injuries since the program began, Hewins said he has noticed many changes he believes are a result of ‘Stretch and Flex.’ ‘I have seen an impact on communication, planning, awareness, and camaraderie on jobs, and all that’s very tangible,’ he said. ‘I see great results.’”

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