Perhaps just as important as the load that construction workers lift onsite is the load they carry by being overweight.
That is why Cianbro, a civil and heavy industrial construction company based in Pittsfield, ME, emphasizes health and wellness along with safety.
“We realized we weren’t going to make people’s knees better unless they weighed less,” said Dr. Larry Catlett, medical director at Cianbro. Weighing an extra 30-40 pounds “makes a big difference on the biomechanics both in your back and on your knees,” he added.
Musculoskeletal disorders represent a large cost for Cianbro, according to Catlett. He said the company enforces a 50-pound lift restriction and tries to prevent other risky activities, but off-the-job factors matter as well, such as obesity, poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking.
He advocates focusing on a worker’s risk burden, which includes more than age. “Age is important,” he said. “There’s no question about that, particularly in degenerative diseases, but how well you are otherwise is going to determine how well you can tolerate that knee pain or whether you’re going to run down to the knee surgeon.”
Catlett emphasized the importance of giving workers the tools they need to prevent or manage a health condition. For example, Cianbro supplies nicotine-replacement products to employees for free to help them quit smoking.
“If they don’t have any way to stop and don’t have a good cultural support to stop, then they can’t stop,” Catlett said.
He recalled his past experience with treating workers, many of whom were young and had the “tough guy” mentality. Whether it was unsafe work habits or unhealthy eating, they had the attitude that nothing bad would happen to them. But “as people begin to mature and get older, they begin to realize that the way they do things and … what they eat and what they don’t eat impacts the way they feel and are able to perform,” Catlett said.