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How to Lower the Risk of Work Injuries with These 6 Exercises

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Work related injuries on the jobsite are no joke. Think about the specific muscles in your body that are endlessly repeating same motion on a typical day. The construction industry has a very high rate of musculoskeletal injuries. In fact, construction’s rate of musculoskeletal disorders is about 16% higher than the average rate for all industries combined. But before you start to feel that crick in your neck or tension in your back, read on for some simple steps you can take to limit your vulnerability to MSDs.

While there are many things the construction industry can do to reduce the risks of MSDs in the workforce, one of the key things workers can do for themselves is to stay physically fit.  

Researchers have found a correlation between the tasks construction people do on the job and musculoskeletal injuries. Frequent bending and stooping, lifting and carrying heavy loads, repetitive motions, exposure to vibrations, and exposure to extreme weather all increase the risk of muscle and bone injuries. Backs, shoulders, arms, and wrists figure prominently in the repetitive strain injuries to construction workers. 

RSIs? RMIs? CDTs? What’s it all About?

On average, employees miss eight days of work each year due to repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), and their incidence has increased by 30% over the last 10 years. Besides pain and suffering, RSIs cost the industry well over $600 million a year just in worker's compensation payout. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than a half million workers get job related sprains, strains, and low back injuries every year.

There is researched and anecdotal evidence that warm-up exercises before undertaking typical construction tasks is helpful in maintaining, and even in increasing joint and muscle flexibility, while also improving muscle endurance for people handling materials and working in strenuous positions.

 MSDs caused during work come in many forms, including:

— Repetitive motion injuries;

— Repetitive strain injuries;

— Cumulative trauma disorders;

— Regional musculoskeletal disorders; and

— Overuse syndrome.

When you have to work in fixed positions, or constrained spaces, your muscles don’t have time to recover between movements. The same is true for using continually repetitive movements, using concentrated amounts of energy at one part of the body, and working at a too fast pace. when you use continual repetitive movements, concentrated energy at one part of the body, and working at too fast of a pace. 

The Physical Activity Part of the Equation

While there are many things the construction industry, makers of construction tools, and construction businesses can do to reduce the risks of MSDs in the workforce, one of the key things workers can do for themselves is to stay physically fit. Many people assume that construction work contributes to a person’s overall fitness, but that all depends on the variety and intensity of movements. 

Most physical activity in construction is highly specialized. A drywall hanger repeats the same movements all day long, as do people in other specialized trades. That limits the exercise variety and restricts benefits to just the muscles, bones, and tendons needed for the task. And, as the person gets more skilled in the task they don’t need to expend as much aerobic energy while doing it. That reduces the desired aerobic effect. 

The value of construction work to overall physical fitness is usually related to physical activity. As one study found, mostly walking or heavy labor, makes a modest contribution to a person meeting minimum U.S. physical activity guidelines. Also important from an overall fitness perspective is that numerous studies report that workers in jobs requiring high occupational activity have a greater risk of cardiovascular disease. This is especially true for men who don’t have very much leisure time physical activity. So what’s the takeaway?

One part of the Answer

Working in construction means you have a higher risk for musculoskeletal injury, and it’s unlikely that the physical activity from the work itself is going to help protect you from those injuries. However, there is evidence that you can reduce your MSD risk by warming up before beginning work. Taking short breaks to stretch throughout the day can help ward off repetitive motion injuries.  

Here is a starter set of exercises that target areas where many MSDs originate. They don’t require you to lie down, or rely on a supporting object, so they are easy to do in most situations. If you already have an injury, consult your doctor for appropriate exercises. Breathe normally as you do these, and avoid jerky movements. The benefits come from exercising regularly. If you are in a job requiring you to use repetitive movements, consider taking regular short breaks to exercise.

  1. Face forward.
  2. Turn your head slowly as far as comfortable to one side.
  3. Do the same to the other side, then start over and repeat five times.

  1. With arms at your side, move your shoulders upward, forward, downward, and backward, in a circular pattern. 
  2. Reverse the direction, and repeat five times in each direction.

  1. Raise your arms over your head, palms facing upward and stretch and hold for five seconds.
  2. Then, with arms still over head, stretch to one side, and then the other, holding each for five seconds.
  3. Repeat five times.

  1. While standing, put your palms on your lower back.
  2. Lean backwards from your shoulders, stretching your upper body backwards. Hold for five seconds.
  3. Return to starting position, and then repeat five times.

  1. Bend your elbows, facing your palms forward.
  2. Inhale, and as you exhale, lower your elbows downward and backward, aiming them toward your hip pockets.
  3. Hold the position for five seconds, return to the starting position, and repeat five times.

  1. Stretch one arm out across the front of your body at chest level.
  2. Put your other hand against the backside of the extended arm’s elbow.
  3. Gently pull the elbow inward toward your chest.
  4. Repeat, alternating arms.


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