Workers with a Japanese construction company say the daily exercises help cut accidents.
Palm Jumeirah workers' morning workout
DUBAI // Standing in neat columns on the forecourt of a building site on Palm Jumeirah, 400 workers begin moving somewhat haphazardly to the sound of a crackly Japanese radio broadcast. Under the instruction of foremen in grey overalls and white hard hats, the workers swing their arms out from their sides as they bend their knees to the music. Then, as the next in a series of eight movements, they swing their arms in circles, forwards and then backwards. Side stretches follow, then bending to touch the toes, then leaning backwards. "In Japan the people are all in time with the music. They move together, one flow of movements. Here it is not so simple," laughed Katsuhiko Tateishi, the administration and contract manager for Shimizu Corp. This is rajio taiso, or radio physical exercises, a brief exercise routine that is broadcast daily by NHK national radio and television across Japan and is traditionally practised by young and old in schools, offices, factories and on construction sites. On this Dubai worksite it is being credited with helping to keep workers safe on the job. Since the Shimizu Corp won the contract for the Dubai Marina Residences on The Palm in July 2006, rajio taiso has been part of the daily schedule of all the Japanese construction company's workers. Every morning at 7.45 each subcontracting firm under Shimizu's umbrella gathers its workers into orderly lines to participate. Rajio taiso is credited not only with ensuring that workers begin their physically demanding day suitably stretched and warmed up, reducing the risk of injury, but also mentally "united" with their colleagues. "I would say the benefit is half physical and half mental," Mr Tateishi said. "It makes more of a spiritual difference because you gather, before you go to each part of the site, in one place and do the same exercises. "All workers on site, from labour through to management, participate. It promotes uniformity rather than the exercise itself, plus it is good for stretching." The series of stretches lasts only five minutes, ending with the men turning to face the opposite direction so that each worker can give the person now standing before him a quick, invigorating back massage using the chopping technique. This complete, the workers turn around again and their foreman commands them to "sit" while he rallies them with a speech about improving worksite safety, especially fire safety. Afterwards the men stand, pair off, and in chorus run through the checklist of safety equipment each is wearing - beginning with the helmet and working downwards. Three cheers of "Safety first!" end the drill and the groups disperse to their areas of the worksite. Mr Tateishi said the company recently celebrated 15 million man-hours on the site with no accidents - a figure calculated by multiplying the number of labourers by the aggregate number of hours they have worked. The six-tower project employs more than 3,500 workers and all of them begin their shifts with the exercise routine. "I would like to think this [accident-free record] has, in part, something to do with our morning routine," Mr Tateishi said. "I feel that it is not 100 per cent why, but I feel it is an important aspect." While the ritual has been part of Japanese culture for a long time, the first exercise programme broadcast was made in New York in 1925. On Nov 1 1928 Tokyo's first rajio taiso programme was aired. According to an article in The Japan Times, by 1932 more than 1.5 million people in Japan were listening to the broadcasts and exercising every morning. The stretches, considered to be callisthenics, are less about physical exertion and more about promoting unity and co-operation and raising energy levels. Until relatively recently rajio taiso was strongly encouraged for schoolchildren, with many schools promoting the routine even during summer holidays. Children would get up at 6.30am for the group callisthenics, then return home to have breakfast and do their summer homework. A stamp-card reward scheme, something like the gold star system in many classrooms, would encourage children to participate; every time children attended, their cards would be stamped. Today things in Japan are less regimented and while schools still advocate the exercise programme, they tend not to push. Most of today's Japanese participants are of the older generations. But for Arnel Bautisa, 33, a plumber who has been working on the Marina Residences project for almost a year with his colleague Arnold Cruz, the morning callisthenics are a new and enjoyable experience. "It is new for me but yes, it is nice. We enjoy it. It helps to be relaxed and it is a good way to start the day." firstname.lastname@example.org