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Ergonomic Toolbox for Trades People

30 March 2022

One of the most ergonomically neglected industries is the construction and building trade, and unfortunately, it is these skilled workers that are in need of ergonomics the most.

With young people being warned that the retirement age could reach as high as 75 over the next few decades, those with physically demanding jobs are being forced to retire as early as 61 due to workplace-related injuries or suffering through age-related injuries to work past retirement age.

That is why ergonomics is so crucial for tradies, both on and off-site.

Ergonomics is More Than Preventing Injury

Despite poor ergonomic support, there is no doubt that the British construction industry is the safest in the world.

Next to other less developed countries, tradespeople in the UK encounter fewer hazards and experience fewer injuries than their counterparts from countries where health and safety measures are less vigorous.

However, manual construction work involves a lot of bending, twisting, stretching, crawling, heavy lifting, and handling of complex and dangerous equipment that requires focus. On average, more tradespeople complain of lower and upper back pain than workers in other sectors.

Electricians are at increased risk of arthritis, plasters are more likely to have chronic back pain by the age of 40, carpenters are at risk of tinnitus and lung problems, and plumbers are vulnerable to knee injuries.

There is no surprise that the UK is facing a manual skills crisis as experienced tradespeople struggle to work past 60 and younger people are being put off pursuing a career in trade because of the increasing retirement age.

This is not to say that office work is easy. Both types of work have their drawbacks, but a greater awareness of the importance of ergonomics is needed beyond the office and should be a priority for all employers across all sectors to keep their staff fit for work for longer.

Ergonomic Tips for Trades People

Ergonomics for construction workers is trickier than for office-based employees. However just because it is more difficult to prevent muscle strain in such demanding jobs does not mean that is impossible or unnecessary.

Here are some top tips from our ergonomic specialists on how you can keep your muscles loose and limber while working on site:

  • Always ask for help when lifting objects over 50lbs
  • Wear gloves with grip, this will put less pressure on your hand muscles.
  • Wear a specially fitted back brace to support your spine
  • Wear ergonomic work boots to prevent pressure on the ankles and feet
  • Get as close as you can to the object you are working on
  • Check-in with your posture regularly, ensuring your spine is straight and your shoulders are back
  • Switch up your tasks as much as possible to prevent repetitive strain

Do spinal and back stretches during breaks such as:

  • Hamstring stretches
  • Shoulder and neck rolls
  • Chin-to-chest stretches
  • Elbow-to-Elbow behind the back grip
  • Bent arm wall stretches

Off-Site Ergonomics

Much of the damage from physically demanding work can be offset by how you treat your body while at home. Promoting relaxation and optimal comfort will help your body to recover from a hard day's work and reset your musculoskeletal structure ready to take on the following day.

Seating

Make sure to have ergonomic furniture at home that gives your body adequate support. If you're having a day off-site to file paperwork, do so at a proper desk and invest in an ergonomic chair with back support that is adjustable for your needs.

Sleep

Getting a good night's sleep is crucial, no matter what kind of work you do. Make sure you opt for a good-quality mattress that is flexible yet firm.

Make sure your pillows are stacked to support your neck without straining, and if possible, a memory foam pillow that supports you but moulds itself to your sleeping position is ideal for keeping your neck muscles limber and relaxed throughout the night.

Stretches

While stretching is advised throughout the day at regular intervals, there are some deeper stretches you can do at home that will realign your spine and flex your joints.

Stretching has many health benefits and improves your overall well-being. It gets rid of any lactic acid build-up from strenuous activities throughout the day, improves your posture and flexibility, and helps to protect your body from further deterioration or injury.

Static stretches

These are best done immediately after work or throughout the day during breaks. Hold the stretch in a comfortable position for 20-30 seconds.

Dynamic Stretches

Dynamic stretches are completed during fluid movement, and you will perhaps be more comfortable completing these at home. Dynamic stretches are continuous and are not held at the end of the movement but are exercises that stretch out the muscles in motion.

Hit The Gym

It may sound counterintuitive to do more exercise to recover from a hard day's graft, but weightlifting and regular cardiovascular exercise help to build up your core muscles and give your bones and joints more support.

Increasing your endurance and muscle density will help cushion any blows, help you to recover from injury faster, and help to prevent serious injuries in the first place.

Stretch Your Hands and Feet

Your hands and feet are put under the most strain while on-site, yet they are easily neglected when it comes to ergonomics.

Stretch your fingers back and down to stretch out your hands, wrists, and forearms, and do regular ankle circles and hamstring stretches to relax the feet.

Working on-site is a demanding job, but incredibly rewarding. Being part of a team that is working together to build something brand new is fulfilling, and those that choose to go into trades can have very fruitful and enjoyable careers.

Taking care of your body on and off-site not only protects you in the present but also futureproofs your body against excessive wear and tear. Therefore, it is important to take time out of your day at work or at home to make sure you are in tip-top shape and fighting fit to keep you working better, and safer, for longer.