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What We’re Lovin’: The FIT Start Program at The University of Texas at Austin

Few would argue that custodial work is tough business. Not only does it come without much prestige or recognition, it also requires a lot of physical exertion — more succinctly, “elbow grease.” In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts custodians near the top of the list of occupations with the highest rates of injury-causing days away from work in the U.S.

Most of these injuries are caused by overexertion, or pushing the body past its limit.

Someone who has overexerted themselves can experience a variety of issues, including swelling in the joints, pain, soreness, numbness, muscle weakness and repetitive injuries down the road. It can also lead to increased workers’ compensation claims and labor costs—which already amount for almost one-third of a total facilities’ budget.

But the thing is, the majority of injuries related overexertion are preventable. We’ve found that the University of Texas at Austin’s (UT Austin) Fit Start Program is one smart approach to helping prevent these injuries.

In 2010, the UT Austin custodial management team recognized the need to address the daily physical strains experienced by custodial staff, so they partnered with the Kinesiology Department’s Fitness Institute of Texas. The group studied the daily work and cleaning tasks of each custodial worker and developed a customized program aimed to reduce the risk of injury and prepare the custodial department for the demands of the day. After conducting a series of trials to see what worked and didn’t work for the team, the program was implemented with the goal of preparing employees for the day and reducing the risk of injury.

Every morning, the custodial team warms up before each shift. The routine consists of five simple movements that are not exercises or stretches, but activities specifically designed to accomplish the following:

  • Increase blood flow to the muscles that are needed to perform custodial work.
  • Increase the communication between an individual’s brain and muscles to help reduce the risk of injury.

Following the acronym detailed in the program’s name, the moves consist of the following:

S: Swing the Arms

T: Twist the Body

A: Alternate and Sink

R: Reach and Fold

T: Touch and Toss

While the thought of doing warm up exercises before each shift may seem silly or unnecessary, it can have several benefits if you do it the right way. In addition to reducing injuries, it can offer an opportunity to engage workers and have some fun. It also shows them that you care about them and their well-being—and what’s not to love about that?

We love the program so much that we’ve incorporated it into our (OS1) Program to improve the safety of cleaning professionals everywhere.