Shocking death stats spur BT to put heart into health drive

BT is to launch the UK’s biggest workplace health programme after it emerged that one employee dies every two weeks from a heart-related illness.

The Work Fit campaign, due to be officially unveiled on 26 September, aims to get BT’s 100,000-plus employees thinking about health and fitness, give advice on avoiding heart problems and promote healthier lifestyles.

The move reflects a growing trend among UK employers, which are beginning to recognise that a healthier workforce leads to improved productivity and lower sickness absence. CBI figures show that absence costs UK employers £12bn a year, with 168 million working days lost in 2004.

The campaign is being championed by BT’s chief medical officer Dr Paul Litchfield, and sponsored at executive level by Alex Wilson, the firm’s group HR director.

BT group safety adviser Dave Wallington, who is on the project team, said the company realised it had an ageing workforce with increased risks of heart disease and wanted to push health up the agenda. The programme also has potentially big financial paybacks in terms of reducing sickness absence and ill-health, he said.

The Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) and managers’ union Connect are both supporting Work Fit, and are running roadshows throughout September encouraging people to sign up.

Dave Joyce, CWU national health and safety officer, said: “We’re endorsing this proactive campaign to tackle the issues affecting the health and well-being of our members because too many people unnecessarily suffer bad health, a poor quality of life and die too young from preventable causes.”

In the first three days after it was advertised last week, more than 8,000 workers registered to take part in Work Fit – an “amazing” take-up, according to the Men’s Health Forum, which is supporting the programme.

A forum spokesman said he wasn’t aware of any other programme of this scale in the UK. “We’ve never known anything like it. We’re into uncharted territory here,” he said.

BT’s Work Fit campaign

BT is investing 40,000 in the programme, including free kitbags containing pedometers and health-food vouchers. It builds up over 16 weeks from 26 September, and involves a series of simple lifestyle and diet changes and a series of moderate exercises.

A dedicated Work Fit intranet site will include access to nurses signed up by the Men’s Health Forum to act as lifestyle advisers, answer e-mail questions and provide dietary and fitness advice and other health information. Individuals will also be sent tailored weekly activity programmes and tips for help in lifestyle improvements, such as information on food and reducing cholesterol.

Heart disease: the facts

  • Coronary heart disease kills more than 110,000 people in England every year, but is largely preventable
  • Key lifestyle risk factors for CHD include smoking, poor diet and lack of exercise. It is highest among the obese. Department of Health figures show that 22% of men and 23% of women in England are obese
  • The government’s Choosing Health White Paper, published last year, highlighted the role a healthier workforce can play in improving productivity.

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