June 2005 
Volume 04, Issue 2 
Shared Services Group

Not just a stretch

Industrial Athlete Program helps workers better tackle physically demanding tasks


Symptom InterventionBending, twisting and lifting might describe a day in the life of a professional athlete. But the people who build Boeing products crawl out on wings, twist through small fuselage sections and lift heavy equipment. It's time, Boeing Health Services Manager Dr. William E. Smith said, "that they receive the same level of advanced care as professional athletes in order to prevent pain and injury."

It's for these "industrial athletes" that Smith is creating a new program at Boeing. The Boeing Industrial Athlete Program combines services such as industrial massage, conditioning exercises, stretching, and physical and occupational therapy. This voluntary program, available at the workplace, is designed to improve the physical and mental resilience of employees. Services are available at no cost to the employee and the benefits can be life-changing, "Our goal is for employees to be able to fully engage in life without pain and injury and stay in the game for themselves, their families and their career," Smith said.

Aspects of the program are already under way in the Everett and Renton, Wash., factories, and the response has been enthusiastic. "I've been at Boeing for 26 years and have never seen a preventative program before," said Lori Battles, a manufacturing coordinator on the 777 Program. She said industrial massage helped her "work harder and feel better." Added electrical installer Dan Wakeland, who's learned to stretch and take breaks to reduce and prevent injuries: "It's a real boost to morale."

The Boeing Industrial Athlete Program combines proven therapies with innovative technologies such as digital video analysis that evaluates body mechanics. With services available on site, time away from work is minimal. Since members of the industrial athlete training team spend a great deal of time in the factory, they know about the requirements of each job, which helps them understand why injuries occur and how to help prevent them.

The program has multiple benefits, many of which appear rapidly. "We've seen employees experience improved flexibility, higher energy levels, a more positive outlook, greater resistance to injury and disease and an enhanced ability to handle stress on and off the job," Smith said. Those who participate in the program are also given the tools to recover more quickly if an injury occurs.

The program helps Boeing as well as employees. "By taking early, pre-injury action we help keep skilled, knowledgeable employees healthy, productive and on the job," Smith said.

Work HardeningThe program has four main areas:

  • Symptom Intervention. These services are designed for employees experiencing mild discomfort or having difficulty performing daily jobs. To qualify for these "preinjury" services, an employee must not have an open state occupational injury claim. Industrial massage helped Battles, who was having lower-back problems because of the lifting and moving she performs on the job. Now, she said, she has "more energy to do the things I need to do" and is more productive at work and at home. Other services include stretching and conditioning programs developed by on-site physical and occupational therapists to help employees prevent future injuries. In addition, vocational rehabilitation counselors from the International Association of Machinists/Boeing Vocational Solutions create ways for employees to minimize physical stress by using adaptive or protective equipment such as gel knee pads.
  • Job Conditioning. This program is aimed at employees who are starting or already performing physically demanding jobs. To help prevent injuries, employees perform exercises that focus on stability, balance and flexibility. Other exercises are customized for each employee based on specific job needs. "The whole emphasis of the job-conditioning program is to keep us working and to increase our productivity," Wakefield said, "but the trainers seem to care that we feel good outside of Boeing, too."
  • Work Hardening. This program helps employees return successfully to their previous level of functioning after an injury or surgery. It combines education about safe work methods with conditioning and strengthening exercises and a work simulation program. This ensures people will be able to complete each task of their job over a full eight-hour shift.
  • Industrial Athletics. In addition to taking responsibility for their own health by attending smoking-cessation programs and losing weight, employees are encouraged to participate in "industrial athletics." Offerings include joining a Boeing Health and Fitness center, getting involved with Boeing club activities such as basketball or skiing, and taking advantage of the new off-hours group programs and events available later this year.

Personal accountability is a key to the success of the Industrial Athlete Program, Smith said. "The whole idea of continuous improvement—learning about preventative maintenance and how to be healthy—is the wave of the future," he said.

Currently, job conditioning, early intervention and work hardening are available at Boeing sites in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. Variations of these programs are planned for other locations.

The goal for the Boeing Industrial Athlete Program is to have a coordinated, integrated plan that other Boeing sites can adopt in the future, Smith said. "The ability to deliver our products and services depends on keeping our people healthy," he said. "We have to do this to stay competitive. Besides, it is the right thing to do."

For more information, visit http://industrialathlete.web.boeing.com on the Boeing Web.


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