Offer on-site exercise targeted to specific jobs

Exercise programs specific to the physical demands of a person's actual job are key to getting results, according to Dick Trono, RN, occupational health coordinator at Rutland (VT) Regional Medical Center.

When nurses and aides in a geriatric hospital setting did exercises three times a week to help them in their tasks of pushing and pulling patients, participants had a much lower rate of workers' compensation injuries and lost time.1

Although the study was done in the 1990s, the findings are particularly relevant for today's occupational health professionals. "We are pushing people to participate in programs during their time off," Trono says. "That just doesn't work."

Wellness programs compete with many pressing demands on an employee's time, including lengthy commutes and increasing family responsibilities. "Half of all people who initiate an exercise program stop within six months," notes Trono.

In contrast, the hospital in the above study asked employees to participate in just six 20-minute sessions per month. "It was very simple, and the exercises were very specific to core strengthening," says Trono. Take these steps:

• Offer exercise programs at work.

By doing this, "you have a very captive audience," says Trono. "People in a work group know each other. There is a lot of commonality there."

However, there may be resistance from supervisors who are concerned about loss of productivity. "When you think about it, the amount of time is so minimal. It seems to be a no-brainer for me, but it may be tough to get buy-in from management," says Trono.

Get a trained person onsite to look at the jobs people are doing.

Do a worksite evaluation, then try to minimize potential hazards, looking for any task that requires trunk flexion and rotation in particular. "That really increases the risk of low back pain," says Trono. "If there's a way you can engineer that out, it would prevent the injury from occurring in the first place."

Develop exercises based on an individual's functional requirements.

"Look at what that person has to do physically in order to perform the job," says Trono. "Then, develop a specific exercise program around that."

Reference

1. Gundewall B, Liljeqvist M, Hansson T. Primary prevention of back symptoms and absence from work. A prospective randomized study among hospital employees. Spine 1993; 18(5):587-594.