“Back injuries, muscle strains, stiff, sore, tired employees. Nobody wants that,” said Scott Schulte, general manager of Builders FirstSource plants in Villa Rica and Norcross, Georgia. One way to alleviate these issues is pre-shift stretching. Builders FirstSource has embraced this simple, smart idea in several of its production facilities.
If you’re not sure what pre-shift stretching entails, Schulte is happy to explain: it’s nothing overly strenuous like push-ups or jumping jacks, he said, and it usually includes, “five to ten minutes of basic stretches that work all of the major muscle groups, from the wrists and arms to the back and legs.” The crews stretch twice a day: in the morning and after lunch. “We also use the time while they’re stretching to do short safety meetings or to talk about how we’re doing in production,” Schulte said.
The BFS Villa Rica facility was new in mid-2014, with a brand new crew, many without component industry experience. “Early in my career I worked at a different company and we did [pre-shift stretching] there, so I was accustomed to doing this,” Schulte recalled. “When we built the new plant, it seemed like the right time to implement a program like this. It’s really important for new employees because they’re not used to using these types of tools and getting up and down off of the tables all day. And, since we did it from day one, everybody was all in.”
Creating a New Culture
After good success at the new plant, Schulte opted to implement the program at an established location. While he expected some resistance, he was pleased with the results: “It was a little more difficult with our seasoned people, but we really didn’t get that much pushback.”
Even better, Schulte’s experiences are consistent with those at other plants that have done the same thing. Paul Schmeling of Littfin Truss in Winsted, Minnesota, began a metered rollout of a “limbering program” in his facility three months ago. “We started with the crews at the two tables that build our larger trusses, since those can be more physically demanding,” Schmeling explained. “People were actually much more receptive to it than I thought they would be. We’ve had good involvement and our crews are willingly participating.”
Sure, some of the exercises can be a little goofy looking (that’s the reality of stretching), but after some good-natured laughing and finger-pointing early on, Schmeling feels that everyone has come to “understand the greater good,” and he continues to see “good compliance and good uptake.” So good, in fact, that he intends to roll out the program “with a few tweaks” to all of the Littfin crews over the next few weeks.
A pre-shift stretching program acts a lot like a pre-game warm-up: think football or baseball warm-ups like high-steps down the field or practice pitches. However, most athletes and trainers agree that a cool down is just as important. With that in mind, you may want to consider a post-shift stretching program either in addition to or in place of a pre-shift program. No matter what, adding a warm-up or cool down to your routine is a great way to bookend the physical labor of component manufacturing.
Crafting a Routine
Creating a pre-shift stretching program is pretty easy, too, according to Chris Lambert, general manager of a Builders FirstSource plant in Albermarle, North Carolina. “Our Stretch and Flex program is just a simple five-minute routine and, actually, our safety director, Mike Huneycutt, came up with the stretching sequence himself. [The program] is just basic stretching and we start with some high steps to get everyone warmed up,” Lambert explained.
Huneycutt said that he started with a simple internet search and the rest is history. “It really is a simple program with a little bit of warming up, some arm and shoulder stretches, some hamstring stretches and so on. I just checked out different websites and chose stretches and exercises based on the muscle groups we use to get a variety,” Huneycutt recalled. “We also have a handful of aging workers, so I went to the Arthritis Foundation website to get more ideas for stretches.”
“After we had been doing the program for a while, some of the guys mentioned that their forearms were tired after swinging a hammer all day,” Huneycutt explained, “so I added some stretches for that.” Now that the crews are engaged in the process, Huneycutt has expanded the program based on employee suggestions about what is sore or stiff at the beginning or end of a shift.
While it can be difficult to gather specific data about the impact these types of programs can have, it’s pretty clear at the facilities that try it that it’s working. “I know it makes a difference because the guys say it does!” Lambert exclaimed. “And I can see it, too. Some guys could barely bend half way over when we started the program and now their hands are flat on the ground.” Huneycutt confirmed Lambert’s observations by pointing out that the BFS Albermarle location had no back strain injuries in 2015.
Schulte can see it in his plant, too. “The guys like it and they aren’t sore at the end of the day,” he explained. “Some guys have even mentioned that they do it at home sometimes, too.”