From education to employment

Union representatives are promoting healthier and happier workplaces

One of the most important roles a trade union can play is to ensure the health, safety, welfare and well being of its members. Independent academic evidence shows that trade union safety representatives can make the workplace twice as safe as those workplaces that don’t recognise a union.

Trade unions are now developing this approach to safety and prevention of accidents and injury and developing it into work promoting better health and well-being By championing a positive approach to good health, trade unions  can and do make a real difference to the quality of life of working people.

It’s hard to imagine a better “win/win” scenario. As a result of the improved health of the workforce, employers benefit from dramatically lower levels of absenteeism and increased productivity.

This is why unionlearn have produced a toolkit providing relevant information about ill health and poor work. The toolkit has three key aims: To help raise awareness among workers of what they can do to improve their health and well-being; to help reps raise workplace issues around health and well-being and to help reps find out where they can access further information and up-to-date resources.

The toolkit goes though the journey of promoting workplace health, from making the business case, to assessing need and sickness absence and evaluating your well-being activities.

It also gives guidance on how to look out for and support different types of health and well-being from issues around alcohol and drugs to mental health and stress. It also offers practical advice on healthy eating and exercise and fitness programmes.

An example of this working really well was when the union learning representatives  in the Enfield Warburton’s bakery decided to add to the existing healthy living theme promoted by the bakery by holding a “Healthy Living” campaign over a two day period.

This included cooking two healthy meals for everyone to try free-of-charge at the canteen facility; goody bags with healthy recipe cards and wholemeal pasta, plus a letter promoting a variety of learning course given out to employees; promotion of “five-a-day” through large bowls of fruit and selections of exotic fruit cut into chunks and presented on platters and a raffle with a healthy living theme, with prizes including recipe books and leisure centre vouchers.

The campaign was organised so that staff on all the four shifts could take part. It was advertised through email, posters and on-site communication as well as announcements on the day. This short project has been beneficial both to staff and to Warburtons, and also helped to promote the other activities of the learning centre.

These projects can also make a long-term difference to an organisation’s health and well-being. The ULRs at South Tyneside homes work together with employees from all levels of the organisation to develop initiatives in physical well being, sickness absence analysis, positive/emotional well-being and lifestyle behaviours. To date 355 staff have been provided with a mini health MOT from South Tyneside Primary Care Trust’s Health Trainer Service. Because the ULR had access to further advice and support and were able to make the most of local initiatives there have been 122 exercise scheme take ups and over 100 weight management programmes.

The campaign has contributed to a significant drop in sickness levels resulting in a cost saving for the organisation of over £266,000.

Developing healthy habits through encouragement at work from ULRs can make a real difference to people’s well-being and the way an organisation functions. Like so much of the work of ULRs this toolkit and a renewed focus on health and well-being will bring benefits to all levels of an organisation. It will also help our wider economy. It is currently estimated that 4.9 days per worker per year are lost to sickness absence.

This toolkit is a great example of unionlearn supporting union learning representatives in making their workplaces happier, healthier places to be, improving productivity in the process. More businesses should take up this opportunities to work with union reps to promote a healthier lifestyle.

The Health, work and Well-being toolkit can be downloaded from the unionlearn website.


Tom Wilson is director of unionlearn, the TUC’s learning and skills organisation

Read other FE News articles by Tom Wilson:

Unions can provide the variety of resources and services that the unemployed need

Equalities – a trade union priority

The real value of skills and training

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