Respect for fitness getting traction in the corporate and industrial world

By Christopher Cudworth

Letting our bodies and minds get out of shape does no one any good.

Letting our bodies and minds get out of shape does no one any good.

At one point in America’s economic history, manufacturing made up more than 40% of our economic output. Coming out of World War II, America made more stuff than any other country in the world. We were the builders, the makers, the industrial bakers driving the world’s economy

Now our economy has changed. Manufacturing constitutes about 10% of our GDP, but that’s still a huge amount.

Respect for manufacturing

Through my work as a copywriter in B2B marketing communications and public relations, it has been fascinating to have the is actually going on. You sure can’t tell much about any sort of manufacturing business from the outside looking in. There are secrets and even magical creations going on behind those flat industrial walls. Once inside and walking through a factory it is quite a trip learning how companies invented the things they make, or perfected them somehow. There may be noise, smells and flakes of metal flying around. There may be machines lines up for shipping, and giant wooden crates waiting to welcome them.

The fact about manufacturing is that even the dullest-sounding products usually have a fascinating history or manufacturing process. Business owners who walk you around their factories speak with pride of how the products they make, fix or sell have come to be. Some have long histories. Others were just invented. Either way the engineering or technical requirements of those processes required sharp minds and a determined focus to make them come true, much less market and sell them to the appropriate customers. If you visit enough factories it makes you realized that there is a somewhat alternative America going on in which business runs itself. That’s why businesspeople can grow to hate the government, which imposes regulations and requirements on business that complicate the already difficult tasks of making and selling products.

Many business owners are generous people. They give to local communities and donate their time to lead committees or boards of non-profit organizations to make things better for the world.

A different reality

Then again, there are businesses that are not so nice to workers, or simply don’t have a clue about what real safety and good working conditions mean.

I once worked for a paint company in college. It was a summer job and you don’t expect glamor or glory in those circumstances, but this job was both dull and dangerous. The routine of loading and unloading gallons of paint from a conveyor belt was dull. The task of switching pipe flows between 35,000 gallon tanks of turpentine and latex was very dangerous. One day I made a mistake in the order of valves being turned on and off and got coated when liquid latex poured out of the tanks at a rate of about 1000 gallons per minute. That earned me a trip to the industrial shower where I was stripped naked before the floor managers so they could see that I washed down all the latex. If it had dried and sealed off my pores, it could have meant death

Back out on the floor, my co-workers were busy making fun of my mistake when one of them got so distracted by the teasing he drove the Clarke floor cleaner right off the dock. The front-heavy machine tipped nose first onto the railroad tracks and the driver got catapulted clear over the tracks.

It was a manic summer, as you can tell. The floor managers never knew who was coming and going, or where the employees were assigned. When things got slow one week he put me in charge of chipping out paint layers from beneath the giant color tanks at one end of the production floor. I’d punch in every morning and disappear behind the tanks to chip away with a flat hoe all day long. It was quiet and somewhat satisfying work. In 5 days I’d cleanly carved out a wide section about 30 X 30 ft., chopping through layers and dumping the dried paint into a wheeled dumpster for disposal. One felt a sense of pride as the work proceeded. Then the next Monday the foreman was walking around the tanks and spotted me there. “What are you doing here?” he asked, looking around at the excavations.

“You told me to clean up back here, so that’s what I’m doing,” I told him.

“Well,” he said, looking a bit flustered. “We need you back in production. Leave this alone and come with me.” And it was back to moving cans on and off the production line.

All that summer I gazed worriedly at the constant blue haze in the upper reaches of the factor. Those were turpentine fumes, I knew. It scared the hell out of me that workers would retreat to the lunch room and light up cigarettes during breaks. What if one of those flames ignite the entire place? The explosion would have gone up like a mushroom cloud.

An old problem that never seems to go away

I think about those working conditions in light of the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas. The last real inspection was apparently in 1985 or so. That’s 28 years ago. 28 years of workers apparently working in conditions no safer than those of the paint factory where I worked.

The real damage of my time there became apparent that fall as I entered the junior year of my college cross country career. My lungs did not respond to regular workouts well. I had depression and an occasional queasy feeling in my stomach. I’m convinced the industrial grade environment of that paint plant had lots to do with the difficulties of that year. Of course some of it was my own existential angst of being a 20 year-old with a bad beard and ugly glasses. But not all of it.

Setting the bar higher

It makes me think that America would be better off if we set the bar for working conditions a little higher. If our employee collective in the manufacturing sector were encouraged to better fitness we might learn more about what better health can do for our nation. Fitness and health opportunities need to be dispensed to blue collar as well as white collar workers. Many corporations are seeing the benefits of healthier employees and encouraging employee fitness programs, even providing on-site training and health measurement. Cutting down the costs of health care by helping employees learn more and take better care of their health makes a ton of sense in the current structure of our healthcare system. But the movement needs to move all the way through our economic system for it to be effective.

Truckers set an example

I read somewhere that interstate truck drivers are taking fitness more seriously like this Fit For Trucking website. The rigorous demands of long haul trucking do fall under some health regulations. Drivers are on the clock and must pull over when their driving time is up. That’s a good thing. But that means those truckers have time to kill, and instead of retreating to the bar or the roadside diner, many are going for runs, lifting weights or riding bikes when they pull the rig over.

Those activities are bound to be better for the mental health of drivers away from their families and possibly subject to anxiety or depression as a result. Exercise is one of the first best steps to combatting mental health issues that can lead to physical problems ranging from heart disease to cancer to diabetes.

Industrial grade health problems

We have an industrial grade health problem in our country. Millions of Americans are excessively overweight, and health insurance costs have been going up and up regardless of what party is in charge. Yet when Michelle Obama goes on the road advocating steps to prevent childhood and adult obesity, she is sometimes ridiculed by oppositional press for her concerns about health and fitness.

During the Bush years the average annual increase for corporate health care premiums rose by 12% per year on a straight line average. Conservative blame Obamacare for raising health care costs, but the pattern started well before Barack Obama put provisions together in a package designed to force America to reckon with the neglect of millions of Americans who are uninsured and the gravitation of quality health care toward those with corporate coverage alone.

Cheers for those who run and ride

Those of us who run and ride are already trying to take care of ourselves through healthy exercise. Our efforts to stay healthy are also industrial grade and do contribute to the productivity and GDP of the nation. That is something to be proud of, and yet we need to be concerned that so many Americans simply don’t care how fat they get, how many cigarettes they smoke or how many drinks they imbibe while yelling at the NFL on TV.

The future of America is dependent on those who run and ride and walk their way to fitness. That is yet another secret of the still-industrial age, only it happens mostly outside the walls where everyone can see it. It’s time to claim our rightful place in the betterment of the nation. Run and ride with pride, people. You’re making America better one step and one pedal stroke at a time.

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About Christopher Cudworth

Christopher Cudworth is a content producer, writer and blogger with more than 25 years’ experience in B2B and B2C marketing, journalism, public relations and social media. Connect with Christopher on Twitter: @genesisfix07 and blogs at werunandride.com, therightkindofpride.com and genesisfix.wordpress.com Online portfolio: http://www.behance.net/christophercudworth
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