Tradespeople get the best offices. You’re often out and about across the country, working in different places, and enjoying (or dreading) what the weather has in store. While there are huge benefits to this type of work, it does put tradespeople at a higher risk of injuring themselves or getting sick. Out in the elements and around all that equipment, working your body hard means that you’ve got to make time to rest and recover, even if you don't feel like it. Your body is your livelihood, so take care of it.
The most effective way to improve health & safety in the workplace is to get everyone thinking about it. To make things easier for you, we've put together a one-page H&S survey that you can get your team to fill out. Find out how effective your current H&S processes are — or if there are gaps that need filling.
You don’t need a super-strict diet or exercise routine to stay healthy on the job. Here are some tips to help you combat the health and wellness hazards you may encounter every day.
- 1. Stay well-rested
- 2. Protect yourself from the elements
- 3. Feed your body the right fuel
- 4. Learn how to lift properly
- 5. Try some meditation and mindfulness
- 6. Listen and learn
1. Stay well-rested
Skipping lunch or working without breaks to get the job done? If this is a regular occurrence, you need to rethink your habits. Breaks are essential to your health, especially if you’re doing physical work.
A regular break restores your energy levels and improves your concentration. The human brain and body aren’t designed to work for such long periods and even if we don’t notice it, we start to get bored. It’s when we hit this wall that our concentration starts to slip and we make mistakes. For tradespeople, many of those mistakes end up being accidents and injuries.
A break doesn’t have to be long – even a few minutes is better than no break at all.
Get a good night's sleep
The importance of a good night's sleep is underrated. Sleep keeps you refreshed and helps your body recover from the hard work you did the previous day. When you don’t get enough sleep, you’ll be tired, irritable, and will make mistakes. Lack of sleep impacts your concentration, memory, judgement, and reaction time – and those things are all vital to doing a safe and good job. Put in as much effort as possible to nail that eight hours of sleep every night.
2. Protect yourself from the elements
If you get too cold, you put another layer on. Everyone protects themselves from the cold, so why doesn't everyone protect themselves from the sun? Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer and rates have doubled over the last three decades. According to the Melanoma Research Alliance, one person dies from melanoma every hour of every day.
In 2014, the Cancer Council of Victoria conducted research that showed twice as many Victorian men over the age of 45 died from melanoma when compared to women of the same age. The research pointed to a lack of skincare on outdoor worksites, where male labourers dominate the statistics.
Make a sunblock a habit
This pattern is repeated across the world, with tradespeople and other outdoor workers – those most at risk – disregarding the sunscreen, glasses, and hat. Aside from melanoma, too much sun exposure can leave you dehydrated, lethargic, and can also cause permanent damage to your skin and eyes. Make it a habit to use sunscreen if you’re going to be outdoors for more than 20 minutes, even if it’s not a particularly sunny day.
3. Feed your body the right fuel
Your body needs water to keep it going, and energy drinks or beer don't count. Try to drink at least 1-2 litres during the day. You also need to fuel your body with nutrient-rich food if it’s going to perform at its best.
Kilojoules (or calories) are the unit of measurement for food energy. What you put into your body directly impacts your energy and concentration levels. It’s a pretty simple equation — if you eat more kilojoules than you use, you'll gain weight. If you burn more kilojoules than you eat, you'll lose weight. If you find the balance, you'll maintain. And if your body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, you’ll end up feeling lethargic – or worse, still hungry!
Take a good look at what you’d typically eat and drink in a week to see where you can make improvements. Packing a tasty and nutritious lunch can save you time and money. Invest in a thermal drink bottle to keep your coffee (better than energy drinks!) hot or your water cold throughout the day. At the end of the day, be honest with yourself — we all know when we're eating something bad for us don't we?
Tradespeople still need to exercise
Many tradies assume that having a physical job means your exercise needs are taken care of, but this isn’t necessarily true. You’re gonna build some mean muscles and burn calories faster than an office worker, but you’re probably not improving your overall fitness while on site. Try another type of cardiovascular exercise to keep your heart healthy — swimming, running, and team sports are great options.
4. Learn how to lift properly
You’re only good for physical work for as long as your back holds out, and that won’t be long if you're trying to lift everything with it. One in three injuries sustained by workers are related to manual handling, so this is a pretty big problem in the trades.
Get familiar with proper lifting technique, and encourage the whole team on site to follow these simple rules. Always ask for a hand if you’re lifting something that’s too heavy — use your brain and don't try to show off. Spinal injuries are no joke.
Strengthen by stretching
Most tradespeople generally get a bit of a workout as part of their job, but the daily grind of bending over and lifting heavy objects can take its toll. Tight muscles can lead to a decrease in range of motion, and sometimes injury, so it’s important to help your muscles relax.
One of the best ways to recover from a hard day’s work is by introducing stretching into your evening routine. Regular stretching does wonders for your flexibility and range of motion, so you can perform your everyday physical activities with ease. Research has also shown it can even help heal and prevent ailments like back pain.
Try a yoga class at your local gym or check out one of the thousands of free videos on YouTube to help target a specific area. If you have a few minutes right now, give these beginner exercises a go.
5. Try some meditation and mindfulness
The mental health benefits of meditation and mindfulness have been proven for a long time. Numerous studies have found that general meditation programmes help ease the psychological symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain-related stress.
What is meditation and mindfulness? Essentially it's just taking time to rest your mind, the same way you rest your body. Thanks to technology, it’s now easier than ever to add five or ten minutes into your daily routine. Use your smartphone and some headphones to squeeze mental breaks between jobs. You can practice while sitting in your work truck, or at the beginning and end of your day.
Mental health apps
Apps like Headspace and Calm offer simple, easy-to-follow routines that will help you avoid stress and refocus on your breathing. Improving your mental health through meditation and mindfulness is also a great way to boost your energy during a mid-afternoon slump, or clear your head if you’ve had a particularly tough day on the tools.
6. Listen and learn
If you’re tired of the same radio hosts or playlists while you work or drive, you could try listening to a podcast. Most phones have built-in apps for podcasts, or you can try Spotify.
Behind the Tools with Tradify
We've even launched our own podcast called Behind the Tools. It's an inside look at tradespeople from all over the world. Each episode we bring on a guest to answer the real questions you have about life in the trades, running a business, and how to overcome the challenges that come with being a tradesperson.
Check out this episode with Ed from TradeMutt, an Australian workwear brand providing professional mental health support to tradies, truckies, and blue-collar workers.
You can watch the videos on YouTube or listen to our podcast on your favourite platform:
Keeping your body and mind fighting fit
We know you’re not afraid of a little hard work – it’s part of the job description, really. Although there are plenty of benefits to working in a job that keeps you on your feet, some of the health and wellness stats for tradies are a bit scary, to say the least. In Australia, for example, more than half of serious workplace injuries involve a tradie, despite tradies making up only 30% of the Australian workforce.
Remember that when you get sick or injured, it doesn’t just affect you. Time off work can have significant impacts on your family, your business, as well as the wider community. Many tradespeople choose to fight through the pain, but this approach only puts you more at risk – and the effects can last even longer.
With better sleep, less stress, and more energy, you’ll be better prepared to manage your business – and help keep others healthy and safe too. Staying healthy will enable you to work a physical job for much longer, and make it more pleasant while you’re doing it. You already know you’re only as good as your tools. For tradespeople, your most important tool is your health.