DARLINGTON College has been praised for cutting staff absenteeism to well below the national average.

The college has been awarded a gold standard from Public Health North-East after introducing a range of initiatives to cut the number of sick days taken by its 520 staff.

Healthy working practices have seen sickness and absenteeism rates plummet to an all time low of just 2.3 per cent, well below the national benchmark figure of almost four per cent.

The college has achieved gold on the back of last year’s successful silver accolade after picking up bronze in 2011.

The human resources team has been responsible for organising health campaigns and ensuring the college met stringent health criteria to gain the top award.

Initiatives have included blood pressure and cholesterol clinics, awareness campaigns surrounding heart disease, bowel and prostate cancer and promoting healthy eating.

Staff have been given the opportunity to use pedometers, skipping ropes and sign up to walking pledges, fitness challenges and alcohol consumption social norms surveys.

Designed primarily for staff, the campaign has also filtered down to the thousands of students who use the college.

HR manager Julie Taylor said: “The scheme is now completely embedded in the culture of the college and is having a real impact on staff health and wellbeing.”

Health improvement specialist Rachel Osbaldeston, from Public Health North-East, said the scheme was part of a global effort that could benefit 600,000 people locally.

She said: “Darlington College richly deserves its gold accolade which recognises how much work has been invested into protecting the health and wellbeing of its workforce.

“The payback to all businesses in reduced absenteeism and sickness and increased productivity is enormous and well worth the effort.”