Rebekah’s no run-of-the-mill physio

Peter Hill

WARM-up exercises are something usually associated with elite sports people or athletes, not the timber industry or sawmills.

However, AKD Softwood Yarram’s workforce now begins each day with a series of exercises specifically designed to minimise risks of repetitive strain and overuse injuries.

The firm’s proactive approach to the health and safety of its workforce has resulted in a unique collaboration with local physiotherapist Rebekah Neilson.

On leave from her usual role at Latrobe Regional Hospital and confined to her family home and local community by COVID-19 restrictions, Ms Neilson has put her passion for educating people about how their bodies work and avoiding injuries, into designing role-specific exercises for the entire workforce of 62.

Facility manager John Marshall explained the mill’s workforce was not getting any younger, and although most procedures in the mill were now fully mechanised or automated, there was still a significant degree of manual activity involved in processing the timber.

Forklift drivers, plant operators and office staff all have unique problems associated with sitting, or standing for hours at a time, and Mr Marshall could see the need for AKD to do something to prevent avoidable problems.

“We were sending people to the Latrobe Valley for treatment, with all the problems that entails,” he said.

“AKD see its people as its biggest asset, so we have set up proactive programs to make sure we are doing it right.”

When the mill’s environment, health, safety and resource adviser Graham Clarke discovered Ms Neilson was once again living in the local community, AKD Softwood approached her to design a site-specific program for the workforce.

“Rebekah has walked the entire site, and conducted a task analysis for each operation before developing a series of exercises appropriate for each work location,” Mr Marshall said.

“She has been great for the business, doing a full site review and suggesting where engineering solutions might be better.”

Ms Neilson said she was passionate about educating people to understand movement patterns and how they could avoid injury.

“They say sitting is the new smoking, so we need to get everyone moving and understanding how they can be healthier and avoid those niggling pains,” she said.

“Being on leave and COVID-19 has given me the privilege of being involved here at the mill, taking on a challenge.

“I did a lot of educating in my roles at LRH and it’s nice to integrate those skills into the local community,” she said.

Mr Clarke said the new regime of warm-up exercises and the range of process site-specific exercises to be done throughout the day had already had a significant effect on productivity.

“It seemed overnight with the warm-up program there was a reduction in the number of people experiencing slight niggles or discomfort,” he said.

He emphasised the team had embraced the program because it was explained what each movement achieved and how it helped them avoid annoying niggling pains.

“People have come to me and said ‘I have had these aches and pains for years and now I’m feeling so much better’ so the warm-up and the exercises are doing the right thing, and not just addressing potential work-related issues but also personal,” he said.

“Rebekah has been good, a local, and her program is emphasising everybody does matter and it’s encouraging them to be active.

“We would like to thank Rebekah for the contribution she has already made to AKD.”