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Notes from a Site Engineer 4

Topic of the Day: Standing Around

Photo Credit: David McCulloch

Some site roles are, as mine was, primarily observational in nature. This means that you will spend very little time doing actual physical work of any kind, and an awful lot of time standing around watching other people work. Yes, I was that kind of site engineer. I supervised other people doing the 'hard graft.' I know that, in general, that does not make me the most popular person on site. I came to terms with that a long time ago. I made up for this lack of popularity with my sparkling wit and personality (definitely a joke, I made up for it mostly by being the clumsy goofball). 

Working on site is hard. That is, the actual physical graft of lifting and carrying and bending and stretching repetitively day in and day out. Show me a long term site operative who doesn't have a bad back and I'll show you a dancing unicorn. However, spare a wee thought for those of us with the observational role as well. Standing around, though it may seem the easy option in many ways, comes with its own very specific set of issues. Standing around for long periods of time in any circumstance can be difficult, painful, and uncomfortable. If you add in the extra difficulties on site of being exposed to the elements (wind, hail, rain, sun and all points in between), standing on uneven and/or soft surfaces and wearing heavy, often rigid, site boots, it can make the entire experience deeply unpleasant. 

I will front up to something before I start talking about my own experiences—I do have a bad back. I was a rower for five years and I have been left with chronic lower back pain. That does not make me unusual amongst the general population and, I would hazard, not unusual amongst people who work on site for a living. 

When I was standing around for long periods, I used to suffer terribly with pain in my hips and lower back. Occasionally, this pain would transfer to my knees, feet, and ankles. It was often intense enough to make me thoroughly miserable and quite unpleasant to be around. The primary location of my pain may be because I am female, male engineers may experience this differently. I did always find that I got particularly stiff and sore when it was cold or windy, and was less inclined to it when it was  warm. That may be because when you're already cold, your muscles are already working harder to keep your core warm, and are probably tensed and shivering and so staying in one place for a long period of time is not what they want to do. 

As is the norm for these articles, I have a few words of advice.  

1. Keep Warm

If it is cold, this should be obvious, and it will probably also be the most recurring piece of advice that I give. Layer up appropriately. I will say this time and time again as well—merino wool is your friend, if you can wear it, then invest in it. 

2. Don't Hunch

Pull your shoulders away from your ears and stand up straight! I know, I sound like your mother don't I? If this means you get a draught around your neck, invest in a buff. Buffs work better than scarves, and can also be used as head coverings in a pinch as well. You'll thank me when you don't feel like a hunched old crone at the end of the working day. 

3. Unclench Your Jaw

This is generally pretty good life advice, to be honest, but make sure you don't keep your teeth clamped together when you're standing around for long periods. Tension headaches are nobody's friend. Wiggle your jaw or stick your tongue out every once in a while. Trust me when I say—no one cares if you look ridiculous, they'll care more when you're crabby because your head hurts. 

4. Move Around

Even if you're only able to take a few steps or turn in a circle, then do it. Every 5–10 minutes would be my advice. If you know the ground is soft, you'll want to move frequently to avoid the risk of sinking and getting stuck. 

5. Stretch

You can subtly do this on site—twisting from side to side is a good one—or you can just put aside 10 minutes when you get home to do some back and shoulder stretches. It'll be worth your time, particularly if you choose not to follow my advice below. 

6. Adopt a Wide-Legged Stance

That is, stand with your feet apart. I found this eases the pressure on my lower back, and not only that, it prevents you from sub-consciously transferring all the weight onto one leg. I'm not talking about standing in the splits position, though if you can I'd be seriously impressed, just keep your feet wider than hip width. 

7. Don't Stand with Your Weight on One Leg

We all do it subconsciously. We all have a preferred leg. Even if you shift your weight consciously, before you know it you'll have gotten distracted and switched back. Keep repeating this one to yourself as necessary.  

8. Yoga

This is actually good life advice too, if I'm honest. I do yin yoga now and I wish I'd taken it up earlier. There are some absolutely brilliant, but brutal, poses for your back and hips which are often worst affected by standing around for long periods. So, yes, find a yoga class. You'll find your stillness and it'll make standing around so much easier too. It's a win-win. 

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Notes from a Site Engineer 4
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