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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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When a manufacturer starts treating its employees like athletes

When a manufacturer starts treating its employees like athletes

Manufacturing is tough work. It requires strength, flexibility and endurance. Much like being a professional athlete, the job relies on motions and techniques that can strain muscles.
 
So when GEOTEK — a fiberglass pultrusion company based out of Stewartville — noticed a spike in work-related muscle injuries, company leaders decided to approach the issue in the same way a sports franchise would: they brought in athletic trainers.

“We noticed that we were having work comp claims due to strains and sprains; a lot of back injuries, plus arms and shoulders,” recalls Karl Clausen, GEOTEK’s VP of quality, safety and compliance. “So we reached out to Olmsted Medical Center and said, ‘is this something we can get your help with?’ ”

GEOTEK decided to team up with OMC’s sports medicine and rehab services to design a program that could help prevent these common muscle injuries. Klausen says he was hesitant about the idea at first, but came around after hearing a presentation from a physical therapist.

Nearly 90 percent of GEOTEK's products are made for the electric utility industry. Customers extend from Rochester to Malaysia. A single eight-foot fiberglass poll manufactured by GEOTEK can hold up to 3-4 cars on each side.

Nearly 90 percent of GEOTEK's products are made for the electric utility industry. Customers extend from Rochester to Malaysia. A single eight-foot fiberglass poll manufactured by GEOTEK can hold up to 3-4 cars on each side.

He explains with an analogy: “You don’t see pro sports athletes just run out on the court and start doing layups. They stretch before they go to work. It’s, of course, a game. But for us, it’s no different. This is our game.” 

Health professionals toured the 92,000 square-foot plant to observe the work being done, and came back with a list of exercises best suited for the different types of jobs being performed. Physical therapists from OMC then taught leads from each department how to do properly do the stretches.

“It’s a customized program depending on what job each person is doing out there,” says Wes Duellman, OMC’s marketing and business relations manager.

Now, three years after starting the program, the stretching appears to be offering some relief for GEOTEK and its 200 employees. Injuries are down, productivity is up, and shift leaders say fewer workers are complaining of muscle pain.

“We have had one strain or sprain injury since that time,” says Clausen. “We had eight within a six-month time frame before then.”

Left to right: Karl Clausen, Wes Duellman and GEOTEK HR Director Mollie Forstner

Left to right: Karl Clausen, Wes Duellman and GEOTEK HR Director Mollie Forstner

The stretches have become such an established part of the workplace culture that the office staff has taken up their own exercise routine. Duellman says the key to success for GEOTEK has been the continued buy-in from employees and department leaders.

“They have done a really good job of keeping it up, and they’ve seen a great impact in the reduction of injuries,” says Duellman. “We would much rather do the preventative part, and work with [businesses] to develop these programs, so they’re not coming in with injuries.”

This article is part of a series sponsored by Olmsted Medical Center.

Photography by William Forsman

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