Is the message getting through at long last?

Good to see that there is a continuing downward trend in back pain as a cause of long-term sickness absence.

That was one of the significant findings of the recent EEF/Westfield Health Sickness Absence Survey which showed a steady fall over the last three years in the number of days off being taken by employees due to sickness. The average employee was absent for five days last year compared to 6.7 days in 2007.

Significantly, an all time high of 45% of employees took no days off through sickness in 2010. Whilst recessionary effects may have played a part, this trend began before the recession with year-on-year improvements over the last five years.

The survey shows a clear correlation between those companies with strategies in place to train managers in sickness absence and tougher absence targets, with falling absence rates. More than two thirds are now achieving their targets compared to half in 2007 whilst those companies who trained their managers are one third more likely to reduce their sickness absence.

While the research revealed the top causes of short-term sickness absence as ‘minor illness’, ‘back pain and other joint / muscular problems’ – the same as for the past three years – it also highlighted a continued decrease in stress and back pain as a cause of long-term absence. This is now a long-term trend which contradicts the public perception and highlights better attempts by employers to address the issues.

Perhaps the message that we have been preaching for many years – that prevention is better than cure – is finally getting through, with more employers choosing to properly train their managers in sickness absence prevention methods and giving their desk-based staff the additional protection of an ergonomic chair and workstation as a way of helping to keep them fit and fully productive.