If you drive by the construction site at the Douglas County Hospital at 7 a.m. or 12:30 p.m., you might catch a glimpse of the wave, the bobble head, the PMer or even the tea pot.

No, these are not names for the latest dance crazes. They are stretches and the crew from Mortenson Construction does these, along with several more stretches, during two scheduled stretch breaks.

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At the hospital construction site, there are roughly 30 crew members who participate in the stretching, said Darl Flake, assistant project manager for Mortenson Construction and the foreman of the surgery center's expansion project.

Flake said the superintendent of the project or the foreman usually leads the stretch, which takes about five minutes.

According to Chris Tschida, one of the safety directors from Mortenson Construction, the Minneapolis-based company working on the hospital's surgery center expansion project, the mandatory stretch breaks started back in the late 1990s. About 1995, the company started to do some research on how to combat soft tissue injuries like sprains and strains, said Tschida. The company started a pilot stretching program and found that there was a reduction in injuries, as well as better production from its employees.

"It was a great benefit, not only to the company, but the employees," Tschida said.

From there, the scheduled breaks were not only used for stretching, but also as a way to communicate to everyone on the job site all at one time.

"It really helps to bring the projects together," said Tschida. "What started out as purely a safety thing, turned out to be a great communication tool."

Flake said the communication component is key with the hospital project.

"We are working adjacent to a few operating rooms so communication is key in order to not disrupt the important work happening on the other side of the wall," he said.

In 2010, the company starting seeing some trends in the afternoon, after the crews would come back from lunch. Crew members would be stiff, sore and sluggish and if there were injuries, they would tend to be in the afternoon.

So, Tschida said the company decided to start having the same type of scheduled breaks in the afternoon, complete with more stretches and more communication.

"It was a chance to bring everyone back together and talk about the project and limber up again," he said.

When the company first started its "Bend 'N Stretch" breaks, Tschida said there was a little pushback from the employees, but that it was "pretty well accepted." He remembers one particular employee who balked at the idea at first, but then later thanked him for doing the stretches.

"He proudly said, 'I touched my toes for the first time.'" said Tschida. "That was pretty cool. (The stretching) is just a part of us now. It's what we do."

And he said on each of the job sites - no matter if it's a small project with 10 people or a large project like the U.S. Bank Stadium with 1,500 people - the stretch/communication breaks take place twice each and every day.

"It's pretty powerful," Tschida said. "It's the best thing we've ever done and it keeps getting better and better."

WHY STRETCH?

According to a poster hung up at the job site, there are several reasons for warming up, including bringing everyone one step closer to Mortenson's goal of zero injuries. Other reasons include:

•Prepares your body for work activities.

•Increases your range of motion and flexibility.

•Promotes better blood circulation.

•Increases oxygen to the working muscles.

•Reduces muscle stiffness.

•Enhances muscle coordination.

•Increases team morale.