Worksite workouts:  Why tradies need to step up

It’s a career where your body is your livelihood, but 1 in 5 serious workplace injuries involves a tradie.  

Like a scene from that famous Village People song, a sea of hard hats bending and stretching on the worksite could become a regular sight.

An injury can have a devastating impact on a person’s career, finances and family life, but some simple workplace exercises could help reduce the staggering number of tradies injured on the job. 

Stew’s story

Stew Sant has been a carpenter for 15 years. The 35 year-old says the job has taken a toll on his back, knees and ankles.

“My body feels like it’s about 50 years ahead of itself,” he says. 
“It worries me that I don’t know how much longer my body can take the physical aspects of my job.”

The self employed carpenter says he feels pressured to work, even if he’s sick or injured.

“It’s a huge stress factor and it’s a worrying aspect of being self employed because if you don’t work you don’t get paid,” says Sant.
Physiotherapist David Hall says it’s a common problem with self-employed tradesmen.

“By the time they come into physio, there’s folk law among physios that they’ll often be in a pretty bad way before they actually do seek help,” says Hall.

Working smarter, not harder 

Hall says lower back pain is the most common complaint among tradies, followed closely by shoulder, neck, knee and ankle injuries.
In his view, speaking up and communicating as a team is the key to preventing injuries.

“Rather than just relying on our brute strength and bending our knees and keeping our back straight, we should actually pull back away from that and look at how we are planning our tasks,” Hall says.

“Are we using our equipment appropriately? Is there equipment that could make it easier? Is there a better way of doing this? Do we need more hands on deck and even is this a safe task to do?”

Investing in your body

Stew Sant says he’s recently decided to start trying yoga, pilates and swimming to help him to cope with the physical demands of his job.

“When you’re doing it you feel a lot better but I don’t think you realise how good it is for you until you stop and things start breaking down again,” he says. 

“You look after your tools because they’re your livelihood, so you sharpen your chisel and service your nail guns, but what about your body? If your body’s not working then you can’t work,” says Sant.

The advice

The Australian Physiotherapists Association says:
  • Don’t ignore the pain, see a medical professional
  • Make exercise, particularly stretching, part of your daily routine
  • Wear safety equipment
  • Do gentle stretches to warm up and cool down
  • Avoid twisting
Physiotherapist David Hall says a serious injury can be completely life changing.

“It can influence your working life but also your family life,” Hall says.

For Stew it was the realisation he may not be able to enjoy his favourite activities, like kite surfing and rock climbing that prompted him to take better care of his body.

“I want to keep doing the things I love because at the end of the day work isn’t everything; you’ve got to keep doing what makes you happy.”

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