06/01/2011

By Max Clarke

As the UK went back to work this week, it was reported that almost 2 million workers called in sick at an estimated cost to the economy of £302million. Sickness absence is costing the nation’s workplaces an average of £600 per employee, per year — with one of the most common causes of short-term illness being cold or flu. However, simple steps such as encouraging regular walking and cycling among staff are proving to combat sickness and improve workplace health says UK charity Sustrans.

Recently, the staff and students of University Wales in Cardiff (UWIC) have been proving the theory right after starting initiatives like offering travel planning, offering bike pools and improving on—site facilities for cyclists - to get more people travelling more actively every day to and from the university. As a result there has been a significant reduction in sickness absence rates amongst staff and students.

Now a free, online tool can get even more people moving by foot, bike and public transport in the year ahead. Interactive on-screen maps at scales from 500 feet to 50 miles enable users to plan everyday journeys online and explore alternatives to car use wherever possible. Employees can search for local or national routes, plot journeys, or find what the local area has to offer from schools, supermarkets, libraries, shops and sports centres to car clubs, bus stops and bike shops. All 12,600 miles of the extensive National Cycle Network can also be explored, plus other local routes and transport services, together with thousands of other local amenities. Registration allows up to 45 personalised routes to be saved and shared easily with colleagues or friends via email.

Sustrans’ National Active Travel Co-ordinator, Susie Lea, says:

“Staff sickness can be a big cost to businesses, especially smaller ones. Encouraging staff to travel actively to work is an easy way for employers to limit the cost of sickness. Walking and cycling can be a natural choice for local travel and a way we can exercise as part of our everyday lifestyles. UWIC is a great example of how helping people make simple changes can have a wider impact. Using Sustrans online mapping to plan everyday active journeys is a very accessible and cost-effective place to start.”

Stuart Scott, Chair of the Workplace Health and Well-being Promotion Group says

“Over the past few years, UWIC staff have been encouraged to participate in a number of initiatives which promote green travel and healthy lifestyles. Since starting initiatives in 2007, we have seen a significant reduction in sickness absence rates across the university, suggesting that the implementation of such initiatives can and is having a positive impact upon both the University and the staff that work within it.”

Sustrans has published an Active Travel Workplace Toolkit to help organisations encourage their employees to walk and cycle for their commute. The Toolkit is available on request from activetravel@sustrans.org.uk

So how does a workplace start promoting active travel?

· Conduct an audit of current employee travel trends and issues

· Develop some key action points which respond clearly to these audit results

· Present a clear case for action to workplace management

· Ensure someone takes ownership for running the scheme

· Promote the scheme to staff via newsletters, intranet or internal campaigns


The online mapping tool can be found at sustrans.org.uk: in the ‘Search our mapping’ box on the right-hand side.