Northern Ireland is piloting a new cycle-friendly accreditation scheme for employers which was launched last week (Thursday 19 April) in Belfast.
A number of major employers in Belfast have already signed up to the European Cycle-Friendly Employer Accreditation Schemewhich is aimed at encouraging staff to commute to work by bike.
The scheme was developed to provide a European standard for cycle-friendly companies and is run by the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF) across Europe. It will be delivered in the UK by Cycling UK and supported by Sustrans.
Encouraging staff to cycle to work and for business journeys helps improve staff health and can boost productivity. When employees are encouraged to cycle rather than drive and suitable facilities are provided like dedicated cycle routes and joined-up networks, congestion can be less severe at peak times, which is good for business and the economy.
On average, employees who cycle-commute take at least one day p.a. less off sick than colleagues who do not cycle to work. The benefits can also be found for people’s mental wellbeing, as studies have shown car commuters are at least 13% more likely to feel constantly under strain or unable to concentrate than those who cycle/walk to work.
Sustrans organised the launch event, funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA), at the famous Drawing Offices in the Titanic Hotel, Belfast on Thursday night where a range of speakers from the local business sector and other European countries endorsed the new scheme.
Gordon Clarke, Sustrans Northern Ireland Director said: “We are delighted to kick off this scheme in Northern Ireland and would encourage all employers to participate and reap the benefits of a healthier, happier workforce. We know from the Belfast Bike Life report that people who cycle take nearly 7,000 cars off the roads daily and that 54% of Belfast residents would like to start cycling or cycle more. Employers can help make this happen by providing better facilities for cyclists. We hope this scheme will attract a wide range of employers in both the public and private sectors.”
Cycling UK Chief Executive, Paul Tuohy said: “Businesses where people cycle are some of the most productive and happy places to work. A third of Northern Ireland residents have access to a bike yet only two percent commute by bike so there’s lots more that Cycling UK and individual businesses can do to get people cycling.
“Cycling UK’s Cycle Friendly Employer scheme is an easy way that not only recognises those awe-inspiring businesses already going the extra mile to help their employees’ commute by bike be easier and stress-free, but also provides practical support and advice to help staff be the best they can be, everyday.”
Mary Black, Assistant Director of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement at the Public Health Agency said: “Research has suggested that cycling to work is good for health and wellbeing. It has been estimated that cycling could cut your risk of premature death by 40% and we know that increasing physical activity reduces your risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer. It also improves sleep, helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces stress and anxiety.
“Employers who sign up to the scheme can not only help to improve the health and wellbeing of their employees, but this can also have a positive impact on their businesses by potentially reducing the number of working days lost due to illness and having a happier, productive workforce.”
American insurance company Allstate, based in Belfast city centre, has a large number of employees who cycle to work, in part due to secure cycle parking, shower and changing facilities. Allstate’s Managing Director, John Healy sets a good example as he cycles to work and doesn’t have a car parking space.
To get certified, an employer will have to meet some basic measures like cycle parking and providing information to employees, plus some additional measures which they can choose. Employers are then graded Gold, Silver or Bronze depending on their commitment to making their workplace more cycle-friendly.
Sustrans is promoting the scheme as part of the €4.4m CHIPS project (Cycle Highways Innovation for Smarter People Transport and Spatial Planning) which involves Belfast working with European partner countries to tackle high levels of air pollution by encouraging cycling.
The project, mainly funded through Inter-reg North West Europe and local partners, focuses in east Belfast to reduce car traffic – the biggest cause of air pollution – and promote sustainable transport, such as cycling on the Comber Greenway to commuters.
However, Sustrans is keen to engage employers right across Northern Ireland to sign up to the European Cycle-Friendly Employer Accreditation Scheme.