Headlines: January 26th, 2006

A county council has reached the finals of a national competition to find Britain’s healthiest places to work. Initiatives set up by Wiltshire Council have won it a place in the last stages of the BBC Big Challenge Health Works Awards, which were set up to find companies and organisations that put a premium on health in the workplace.The awards set out to highlight the social and financial cost of preventable illnesses that are linked to poor diet, lack of physical activity, stress and smoking.

Wiltshire has a wide range of health initiatives that it promotes among its staff, including trying to persuade them to opt for healthy and green travel options. They are encouraged to walk or cycle to work and have access to a pool of bicycles to travel to and from local meetings. A walking league competition was staged to encourage people to walk rather than use the lift between floors or take the car for short journeys.

Staff can also benefit from discounted leisure activities such as gyms and swimming pools and there is a smoking cessation scheme to support staff who want to give up the habit. Healthy options have also been introduced in the council’s staff restaurant.

The initiatives run alongside employee well-being policies and flexible working arrangements that allow staff to balance work commitments with their childcare and other care responsibilities.

The authority also works in local schools with further programmes to encourage walking and cycling, a fresh fruit scheme for under 5s and its own healthy school awards. Health and safety manager, Paul Collyer, said: “We very much take the view that a healthy workforce is more effective, having fewer sick days and being more productive while at work. Healthy happy staff are also more likely to stay with us as an employer. Retaining staff means we spend less recruiting and having to train new employees.”

The winners of the awards will be announced next month and will be featured on the BBC’s “Working Lunch” programme.