Nutter Corp. introduces employee wellness program to construction and administrative workers
At Nutter Corp.’s annual safety meeting on Dec. 21, company officials spoke of the importance of maintaining tools and equipment. Oil changes, limiting running times and monitoring of engine temperatures and how they affect the performance of the gear and ultimately the efficiency and safety of the company were discussed.
Then, President and CEO Jerry Nutter introduced something new.
"We can put a price on a rotary hammer or a shovel," he said to his team of nearly 200 employees. "But can you put a price on yourself?"
Nutter wants to make personal wellness as important as equipment maintenance in his company culture. To do this, he has enlisted the help of ProWell – a new Vancouver-based corporate personal wellness consulting firm designed to promote fitness and nutritional health among employees.
ProWell is the brainchild of Buzz Truit, a 25-year veteran of the health and fitness industry. In his three years as a global marketing director with Vancouver-based Nautilus Inc., he helped create the Nautilus Institute, a research and education center at the company’s world headquarters. Now he has gone solo, partnering with Vancouver-based Northwest Personal Training and Fitness Education to offer fitness and nutritional education services to employers. Nutter is the company’s first client.
"We need to move in a direction so that when you come to work, you’re ready to work," Nutter said to his employees. But he wouldn’t have said such a thing or even introduced Truitt just three months ago. In fact, when Truitt first approached Nutter in September, he was skeptical of the idea of helping employees to pursue personal wellness – until one of his employees – a 21-year-old dump truck driver – threw out his back by simply bending over to check a tire.
"That’s what got me to listen to Buzz," Nutter said.
Truitt said the need for personal wellness programs among employees has become urgent, as modern life has made people remarkably less active and more prone to health problems.
"Only about 10 percent of people are considered active today," he said. "People just don’t move as much as they used to. I think (the ProWell program) will redefine the standard of how we treat employees and also the responsibilities of employees."
It also appears the Nutter is pioneering the practice of bringing active wellness to the job site; trade organizations, such as the Building Industry Association of Clark County as well as the state Department of Labor and Industries say they have no knowledge of any other construction companies in the state that offer structured wellness programs to workers. But the notion of wellness and physical fitness on the job site is not new, and it is gaining steam on a national level. Beaverton, Ore.-based Baugh Skanska Construction Co., for example requires its workers to perform 12 minutes of tai chi-related stretching exercises at the start of each work day.
The program Nutter has committed to is not mandatory for employees, but Nutter hopes his crew will embrace the idea. He’ll foot the bill for ProWell, but declined to reveal how much the program will cost.
"Injuries happen very easily when you’re not prepared for life," Nutter said. "It’s just become apparent to us that if we’re going to succeed, we need to be safe when we come to work."
Through the program, his employees will have free access to regular fitness training programs as well as consultations with nutritionists. Nutter hopes the program will reduce on-the-job injuries and lower healthcare costs for the company and for participating employees. This may prove challenging, considering the company had only seven recordable injuries or illnesses out of the 281,658 hours worked in 2006. Those numbers earned Nutter a safety award nomination from the Associated General Contractors of Washington. Nonetheless, Nutter wants to raise the bar.
"We’re going to test the ability of our culture to get everybody into it," he said.
The first step for ProWell participants is to fill out a questionnaire designed to determine the level of involvement each individual will need. Each Nutter employee completed the questionnaire last month. Called the Ready to be ProWell Assessment, it first asks a series of yes or no questions, such as, "Do you feel that making lifestyle changes will improve your quality of life and decrease your risk of health-related disorders?" The second part asks questions pointed at motivation, such as "How confident are you that you can work regular movement, nutritious food and lifestyle choices into your daily schedule, starting tomorrow?"
The idea is to set realistic goals for each person, and to help them work to achieve them.
Brenda Wallace is the human resources manager at Nutter. She went through the initial assessment process and visited Northwest Personal Training prior to the announcement of ProWell’s involvement.
Northwest Personal Training President Alex McMillan said he wants to ease people into the program.
"The thing that’s really important is that it can’t be shock therapy," he said "We want to help employees to work well with the program. If you only have five minutes in the morning, five minutes is better than none."
Wallace said getting employees into the habit of exercising will be a hurdle.
"My time away from work is pretty precious to me, because I’m here a lot," she said. "But I hope we can get the employees to realize that taking care of their bodies is important, and that it will help them at home as well as at work."
Personalizing the fitness solution
Fitness for construction workers may seem superfluous, but some labor jobs, such as truck driving or surveying, involve little motion. Sitting is considered a repetitive stress position. This is because certain muscles will tighten up while others become loose. With sedentary workers, there is a lag time in response when using muscles, and the spine does not have the muscle structure and support necessary to allow good motion. Personal trainers say that find people who sit a lot have very weak hip flexor muscles. Resulting injuries could take weeks or even months to heal. Trainers, like Alex McMillan of Northwest Personal Training and Fitness Education, will focus on the shoulder and neck muscles in these cases.
What about the active ones? Most workers who spend their days doing heavy lifting or digging will say they already work out eight hours a day. Such workers do repetitive stress movements all day long, and tend to have poor nutrition habits. Workers who move all the time can still have a very poor vascular system. These types of workers sustain injuries in the knees and lower back. Trainers will assign these people cross training, such as rowing and bicycling, that doesn’t mimic their repetitive motions. The training should add balance and structure. There may be a need to put more emphasis on one side of the body.