At 11 a.m. each day, some 300 laborers spill out of a Phnom Penh construction site into the adjacent Freedom Park, where they play cards and eat lunch in the shade of the trees that surround the public square.
Then, at precisely 12:40 p.m., a South Korean supervisor blows a whistle, spurring into action his Cambodian assistant, who storms between the groups of workers shouting orders through a bullhorn.
“Come on, get in line,” he instructed them Tuesday. “Come out from under the trees and get to your position. Are you ready? Get in line.”
From all corners of the park, the workers scurried to the northern edge, where they assembled in lines facing the site where they spend their days toiling in the sun.
The South Korean supervisor paced up and down the formation, straightening safety vests, tightening chin-straps on helmets and mocking some for their choice of clothing, all without speaking a word of Khmer.
And then, with another blow of the whistle, the afternoon’s workout began: Starting with circular motions of the head to loosen neck muscles and moving all the way through the body to leg lunges, the supervisor counted out in Korean—hana, dhul, sehtt—as his staff mimicked his movements.
“For people watching, it’s funny,” said Nget Touch, a 44-year-old construction worker from Takeo province.
“This idea is from the Koreans and they want our muscles and health to be optimum. Every day at 12:40 p.m., they call us. It feels like a military training base.”
After six minutes of thrusting, leaning, bending and extending, the supervisor’s assistant used his bullhorn to lead a round of pro-safety chants. “Safety first, OK?” he said. “OK!” they replied with gusto, pumping a fist in the air.
The session closed with each worker receiving a quick shoulder massage from the person behind, before turning around to repay the favor.
The laborers also take part in a morning session prior to beginning work at 7 a.m.
“Every day we have exercises like this,” said Kenny Quang, a Vietnamese safety manager who devises stretching routines for employees of the Korean Posco construction company. “We call it the ‘toolbox meeting.’”
Mr. Quang, who was planning engineer at Posco for five years, said that since changing positions, his routines have been implemented across the firm with great success.
“I work with the planning team, the site engineers: They all do my exercise programs,” he said. “In the future, Cambodia will grow up and all construction companies will use our safety program.”
Posco provides helmets, harnesses and high-visibility vests to its laborers. This, coupled with its exercise program, makes it the safest construction company in Cambodia, according to Mr. Quang.
“We are an international company that follows safety regulations that most companies don’t even think about,” he said, adding that limbering up before shifts helped workers to better climb, carry and build on site.
“We have never had a single accident where a worker was injured.”