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V for vitality

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Why one of the uk’s largest suppliers of skilled labour has launched a health mot roadshow

When’s the last time you went to your doctor’s surgery for a health check-up? In fact, have you ever been for one?

According to the NHS, if you’re aged between 40 and 74 you should have a health check every five years, to check for conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and dementia.

People under the age of 40 are still at risk but the older you are, the higher the risk of developing these conditions. The earlier these are detected by a healthcare assistant and managed, the better. 

Nationwide tour

Busy lifestyles mean that a trip to the doctor is often pushed down the priority list. So, recognising the importance in early detection, Vital Human Resources is bringing health assessments to its workforce. 

Since February, the rail company’s specially-trained health and safety (H&S) advisors have toured the country offering health checks to not only its own workers, but any industry colleagues who can be encouraged to step forward. They’re not intended to replace the NHS health check, but they’re an important part of beginning initial conversations. 

Blood pressure, body fat, visceral fat, body mass index, bone mass and metabolic age are all measured using health testing equipment, which has been rented from service provider New Leaf Health, by having workers place their arm into one machine, step onto another and also input data such as height and age into a computer programme.

After the five-minute test, results are privately fed back to the user by H&S advisors, who explain what the information means and what they should do to reduce potential health risks. 

Putting its money where its mouth is

For Vital, which has supplied skilled staff to a number of industries since 1983, it’s about putting words into action, as H&S manager Mark Barrett explained. 

This year the rail company is planning three major health and safety campaigns: the health check roadshow; a focus on one of the industry’s biggest risks, fatigue; and another, which is yet to be decided. 

“You hear these things about health and wellbeing being at the forefront of everything but do we pay a little bit of lip service to it or do we physically do something about it?,” said Mark, who has a background working in human resources in the military and private security sectors. “I wanted to physically do something about it, to show we have the interest of our workers at heart. 

“Every month in our newsletter we’ve been putting a hot topic on – so diabetes, heart disease, nutrition, fatigue, mental health – and we’re going to carry on doing that for a couple more months. Although we can’t physically tell them what to do, it’s given them all the tools and information that may assist them, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”

Conversation starter

Mark said the machine is a great tool for starting some important but sometimes difficult conversations around worker health.

“Some people can be very nervous. You say ‘Look, just come in and just have your blood pressure done, just come in and we’ll do that,” Mark added. “Then when you’ve got them there you say ‘Why don’t you jump on?’ The key thing for them is I don’t keep any results. They are personal to the individual.

“I’ve had people saying ‘Oh, I didn’t really know that’. I’ve had people say it’s given them a kick up the backside, and I’ve had other people turn around and say ‘Well, I’m sort of where I thought I was’ but mostly people saying it’s given them a well needed jolt.”

A particular draw for workers has been the calculated metabolic age, with some 40-somethings earning bragging rights for having the body of someone much younger.

Such is the excitement surrounding the machine that Vital is in the process of purchasing a machine as part of its ongoing health and wellbeing programme. 

Senior buy-in

More than 200 checkups have already taken place since the health machine first hit the road, including on senior leaders at a recent meeting of the Track Safety Alliance. Brian Paynter, project director at Network Rail, left a glowing endorsement of the machine and Vital’s scheme. 

He said: “Having this type of equipment available to our Orange Army helps them understand that we do care about their health and wellbeing and I see this as one of the many tools of free advice we offer to help them understand what they may need to do with their lifestyle choices to make themselves fit for work and fit for life in general.”

Overall, the rail industry is determined to take on more responsibility for worker health and wellbeing, a drive Vital is committed to. 

“Vital’s senior management team have got well behind this,” said Mark. “We’ve generally got an interest because we want to look after our workforce not only on site but off site as well and we want people to arrive on site fit for work. The machine should help us to do that.”