You have probably heard of alternative music, alternative lifestyles and alternative medicine, but what about alternative safety? Alternative safety refers to the use of some very unusual practices — at least as related to safety — in an effort to reduce illnesses and injuries in the workplace. While there are dozens of “alternatives,” we’ll discuss just a few here. Please read on only with an open and curious mind.

Centuries-old practice

Probably the most well recognized type of alternative safety practice for the workplace would be the use of Tai Chi. Practiced in China for centuries, Tai Chi is a form of meditation in motion and martial arts that emphasizes correct body posture and spinal alignment, thus releasing tension and pressure caused by slumping. In turn, better posture improves the digestive system and removes stress from the back. Tai Chi practitioners learn to transfer their energy and weight throughout their body, which can be especially beneficial when lifting.

The various Tai Chi routines spread the load on joint surfaces, which increases the flow of natural lubricants and nutrients. This enables the joint to move more easily and freely. This can be especially useful in reducing the number of repetitive-motion injuries. In Tai Chi, muscles, ligaments and tendons are also being strengthened, keeping them mobile and healthy, and therefore less likely to be injured as easily. Individuals who practice Tai Chi will also be less likely to experience pain from maladies such as arthritis and sciatica.

Martial arts have also been associated with accident prevention. Martial arts are concerned with inner awareness, that is, mental discipline, concentration, physical balance, coordination, leverage and flexibility — all of which can lead to reduced accidents and injuries in the workplace. Since martial arts can improve concentration skills, it can also help employees be more aware of or pay better attention to the task at hand.

Charting cycles

Several years ago, biorhythms were all the rage, and you could buy them from machines in arcades. The use of biorhythms usually involves charting three different cycles of an individual based on their birthday. These three cycles address the physical, emotional and intellectual aspects of someone’s behavior. When the paths of these cycles cross a common point, it is said to be a “critical” day. It is believed that individuals are most likely to experience accidents on these critical days.

Should individual employee biorhythms be used in planning activities? Some proponents of biorhythms have tried to predict when accidents may occur or when a worker might be injured and then take steps to prevent these injuries by assigning tasks around “critical” days. Many studies show no correlation of an individual’s biorhythms and their rate of accidents, although there are at least three studies that did show some positive findings.

In the stars?

The day and time a person was born is the basis for their horoscope. If an employee’s horoscope for the day says that accidents are likely to happen, should you take any action? There has been at least one study done on the relationship between the date of birth and the date of injury for people who have been injured on the job. The study expected to find patterns when injuries occurred — around an individual’s birthday, at three months later, six months later and nine months later. The results were inconclusive.

On the other hand, if an employee’s horoscope warns that he or she should be more careful and not take risks, could this be a bad thing?

Advantageous alignment

The practice of Feng Shui has become very popular in recent years. Feng Shui, which literally translates to wind and water, is a centuries-old practice of placing yourself in advantageous alignment with the energy around you. Many Feng Shui experts have been asked by leading corporations to apply their skills to the work environment so that it is more healthful and productive.

Feng Shui consultants will often suggest moving things around so that energy flows better. This could range from moving furniture around in relation to windows, using different doors to enter and exit, and even adding certain types of pictures, lighting and decorative objects to the work environment. Feng Shui also involves removing clutter — hey, improved housekeeping is always a good thing and can help to reduce accidents.

There is limited, or in some cases no research on the effect of some of these “alternatives” as they relate to workplace safety. Yet they could be proactive steps safety and health professionals may want to consider. It’s been said that if you do the same things you’ve always done, you will get the same results. Doing something radically different may be worth a try.

SIDEBAR: Easy listening?

Many businesses may be affecting employees with music therapy and not even realize it. When the radio is piped through a manufacturing area, office or warehouse all day, it has an effect. Music therapy uses music and music activities to promote the maintenance of good health in the general population.

If a facility pipes music throughout the workplace, it can have a positive or negative effect. Different people like different kinds of music, so be careful about what you pipe in. A song that motivates one person may irritate and cause stress to another.

Also, realize that pumping music into the workplace can affect employees’ noise exposure, and levels should be monitored, especially when combined with other workplace noise.