Sickness absence can be reduced by investing in occupational health

There is a clear link between significant investment in occupational health and business benefits of reduced absence levels, a major survey of sickness in manufacturing companies has shown.

The survey of more than 600 companies, carried out by the EEF manufacturers’ organisation, showed that where there is occupational health support 39% of companies saw a reduction in short-term absence with 28% seeing a reduction in long-term absence.

This compares with declines of 22% and 19% respectively who saw a decrease where there was no occupational health provision.

The figures are a clear vindication that committing resources to tackling sickness absence and placing an emphasis on rehabilitation can benefit both employers and employees, EEF chief medical adviser Sayeed Khan said.

“Those companies which still put this issue in the ‘too difficult’ tray would do well to sit up and take note of the very real benefits they would reap from tacking the problem,” he said.

Current estimates suggest that the cost of long term sickness absence to the UK economy is running at about £13bn.

In addition, the survey also showed that the manufacturing sector leads the way in investing in OH with 65% of manufacturing companies providing some form of OH service. This is more than double the national average estimated by the Health & Safety Executive of 25%-33%.

Other key findings:

  • The overall sickness absence rate was 3.1% in 2005 (7.1 working days lost per employee). This compares to 3.6% in 2004 (8.1 days lost)
  • ‘General wellbeing of employees’ was cited as the second most common reason for concern about sickness absence (45%) behind ‘management concern’ (74%)
  • Companies reported that more than one-third of their employees (38%) did not have a single episode of sickness absence
  • Employers tended to use specialist occupational health or other consultancies to provide their OH support rather than their GP.


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