Sickness absence a major headache for employers

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Long-term sickness absence is still an ongoing issue, according to a major study of the manufacturing industry released by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation.

The EEF/Unum 2009 Sickness Absence Survey shows that, despite overall sickness absence decreasing, 36% of employers report an increase in long-term absence from 2007 to 2008.

The survey results identify ‘surgery or medical investigation or tests’ as the cause of almost 60% of all long-term absences, ahead of back problems (34%), cancer (26%) and stress (25%).  And this category continues to worsen, with the number of employers citing the cause increasing by 6% over the last 12 months and 14% since 2005.  In addition, of those employers who have seen an increase, 28% report that ‘waiting for appointment or diagnosis of illness’ is a barrier on the pathway to return to work and 25% cite ‘waiting for treatments or operations’.

Commenting, Professor Sayeed Khan, EEF Chief Medical Adviser said: “The overall fall in sickness absence figures conceals a worrying trend – an ongoing issue with long-term absence.  Employers can do a lot to address this through better management, but employers would benefit from faster access to NHS treatments and secondary care in order to have a chance of significantly improving absence levels.

The research shows that 45% of companies say that they are dissatisfied with the current sick note system, with only 28% satisfied.

Commenting, Professor Michael O’Donnell, Chief Medical Officer at Unum added: “The proposed ‘fit for work’ initiative should help the NHS follow the recently launched NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidance on long-term sickness absence and incapacity.  There is still a need for early intervention in the working population to prevent job loss and long-term absence from work”

The EEF/Unum survey revealed other findings, including:

 •    Back pain remains the second most quoted cause of both short-term and long-

     term absence

•    The cost of barriers to rehabilitation in the manufacturing industry has

     fallen by more than £100m a year to £508m (down from £610m in 2008)

•    3 million fewer days are being lost in Manufacturing due to sickness

     absence now than in 2005

  •    Overall sickness absence in the industry now stands at 6.2 days per

     employee each year, down from 6.8 days per employee in 2007.

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