Many safety professionals significantly underestimate the cost of site-wide, workplace stretching programs. For a medium-sized manufacturing facility (i.e., 1,000 manufacturing employees, spread equally over 3 shifts), the annual (salary) cost of a stretching program ranges between $390,000 and $1,365,000 (see calculations). But what are the benefits of this financial investment?
When asked, most safety professionals assume or advocate that site-wide, workplace stretching programs help reduce work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs). However, among researchers and some safety professionals, there are serious questions concerning the effectiveness of stretching programs in reducing WMSDs or improving human performance.
In 2003, Hess and Hecker conducted a review of research related to stretching at work for injury prevention. Based on the three best-known studies included in their review, stretching did not result in any meaningful or statistical reduction in WMSDs.
If we expand our review of the research to include the studies of stretching and injury reduction in sports, a substantial body of research found similar results. Many assume that stretching is a smart and responsible thing to do before a sporting activity. However, that's not necessarily true.
Static stretching prior to an athletic event will decrease muscular power (Marek, S.M., et al., 2005), torque (Evetovich, T.K., et al., 2003), maximum force output (Bacurau, R.F., et al., 2009), vertical jump height (Young, W. and Elliott, S., 2001), sprint speed (Nelson, A.G., et al., 2005), agility (McMillian, D.J., et al., 2006), and maximal strength for up to 1 hour (Fowles, J.R., Sale, D.G., and MacDougall, J.D., 2000).
Static stretching prior to an athletic event will lower endurance performance and increase the energy cost of running during a 30-minute run (Wilson, J.M., 2010).
In 2004, Thacker, et al., completed a systematic review of the literature related to the impact of stretching on sports injuries. Their conclusion:
“There is not sufficient evidence to endorse or discontinue routine stretching before or after exercise to prevent injury in competitive or recreational athletes.”
More recently, in 2009, Goggins, et al., completed an exhaustive review of the literature related to case studies that reported benefits of ergonomics programs and controls measures. The researchers proposed the following relationship between ergonomic controls and estimates of effectiveness (based on results from case studies).
The image illustrates that controls that rely on behaviors, such as site-wide, workplace stretching programs, have limited overall effectiveness (5% to 20%). Coupled with the fact that there is no meaningful or statistical reduction in WMSDs associated with site-wide, workplace stretching programs, it seems that the benefit of the financial investment is marginal, at best. I encourage you to use your own actual data to calculate the cost of your site-wide, workplace stretching programs (see calculations).