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Every year around 170 million working days are lost in Great Britain due to people being too ill to go to work. The best way of reducing that number is by trying to prevent workers getting ill in the first place.

In the workplace “well-being”, or sometimes “wellness”, has become a convenient label for almost any health related initiative. For trade unions, that makes it difficult for them to respond, especially when management sometimes uses “well-being” as a way of by-passing union involvement or fails to prevent people being injured or becoming ill in the first place. Prevention must be the top priority, but a positive approach to developing ‘good work’, which takes account of health and wellbeing can lead to improvements in both the health and quality of life of the workforce.

Union health and safety reps can have a role at helping employers to promote well-being. The workplace can, like any other environment, be a useful place to encourage people to make healthy choices, and workers who eat well and are physically active are healthier and, usually, feel better. There is evidence that people who take more exercise and eat better will be less likely to take time off sick. In addition increased exercise can help prevent or manage over 20 different conditions from diabetes to heart disease.

But the biggest lifestyle gains can be made through reducing stress, long hours and introducing policies that promote “work-life balance” and unions should try to get employers to tackle these as a first priority.

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