Pitch Pitfalls

Adam GomesEncouraging your staff to play sport – especially if they haven’t done so in a long time – could lead to injuries and affect business operations, says Adam Gomes.

As the focus on staff wellness and wellbeing intensifies at UK companies, it’s worth pointing out that not all initiatives are good ideas.

At a company where I previously worked, one initiative was to help staff back into sport. Most people in that particular workforce were aged between 35 and 50 and had not done any vigorous exercise in the past five to 10 years.

A few decided to get back into five-a-side football and joined a league to get fit and healthy. As the weeks went by, I heard how they loved playing again and were feeling better but were aching a bit and feeling it the next day.

Not long after, one of the guys broke his shoulder during a game. I was asked to cover for him and, against my heavily pregnant wife’s wishes, I said yes. What’s the worst that can happen? I used to be pretty good five years ago and it never really leaves you.

Ten minutes into the game, I snapped my Achilles tendon. I was in the doghouse for some time after. But both of these injuries also ended up costing the company and staff members time off and money to provide agency staff to cover their absence.

Wellness programmes are a great idea but they need careful management to reduce chances of injury by easing people back into a healthy lifestyle over time. Of course, employees are responsible for their actions too, so here’s advice that companies and staff can follow.

Company action points

1 Hold toolbox talks
Address the health benefits of sport as well as the team-building components of the activity. Highlight the benefits of low-impact activities and the importance of warm-up and cool-down routines. The best person to do this is a team member who is already actively involved in sport.

2 Review the annual leave/sickness policy
Does it mention time off for sports injuries? Is there a plan to have injured staff engage in less demanding roles such as administrative work? My colleague who broke his shoulder issued job cards until he could get back to the tools.

3 Call in the occupational health (OH) team
This meeting between OH and employee should address when last the employee exercised, what their current fitness level is, previous or current injuries and their exercise goals. From this, employees will be able to set and follow a realistic programme to achieve their goals while reducing their risk of injuries.

4 Organise company exercise sessions
First, check whether company insurance covers any non work-related activities. Second, explain any health and safety risks. Third, find a suitable location. Fourth, check whether employees have any pre-existing medical issues that could affect them in the session.

Staff action points  

  • Be honest with yourself: Review your current fitness level. Visit your GP if you’re not sure you can honestly appraise your fitness levels. It’s also worth weighing yourself and determining your BMI. Set a realistic starting point if you’re not at the level you need to be. Walk instead of driving or taking the bus, for example.  
  • Assess the risks: Can you really do this at your current fitness levels? Consider the suitable intensity level you should be participating at. Jog for a few weeks before jumping straight into a game of five-a-side. And when you start at five-a-side, take a break. Don’t play the full game the first time you get on the pitch.
  • Consider the impact: You and your employer could be affected by your injury. If you drive a lot and you injure your leg during football, the consequences could be severe. Sometimes the risk won’t be worth it. 

Adam Gomes is a chartered compliance specialist at Omegas Enterprises

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