Occupational Health Awards 2008: Award for absence management

Shortlisted teams

East Sussex County Council

About the organisation: The council serves 700,000 people and employs 15,000 staff with a turnover of £1bn.

The challenge: Four years ago, there were nearly 300,000 long-term sickness cases, with no ownership of the problem, inadequate resources, and only 50% of ‘trigger’ reports (calling for action when staff were on sick leave) were being managed effectively.

What the organisation did: Sickness absence pay was removed in the first year of employment in agreement with the trade unions, and more rigorous absence triggers were introduced. A strategic plan was developed including absence targets, better use of data, a new wellbeing programme, and health checks. Absence rates were reduced by 13.6% with a saving of £1.4m, while long-term cases fell from 300 to 100.

Judge’s comment: “The council demonstrated a robust approach to the management of long-term sickness absence. There was evidence of a wide range of strategies to tackle the issue and evidence of tangible success from the venture, with a refreshing, lively approach.”

Welsh Assembly

About the organisation: The Welsh Assembly employs more than 6,000 staff in roles including clerical, administrative, engineering, stonemasonry and hotel inspection.

The challenge: In 2002 the absence rate was more than 12 days per employee, costing the organisation £600,000 a day in lost time.

What the organisation did: The assembly cut absence to eight days per person during 2007 through an innovative range of approaches, including good use of management of information, management training, a dedicated HR adviser, more OH support, and lifestyle fairs.

Judge’s comment: “An innovative approach which was not hindered by lack of functional HR information systems. The tenacious and inclusive approach has produced very tangible results. I was pleased to see the board directors receive statistical information on absence trends and costs.”

West Yorkshire Police

About the organisation: The force employs about 10,000 staff and covers a wide geographical area.

The challenge: As the region is extensive, a logistical approach was needed to deliver a higher quality of occupational health provision.

What the organisation did: The force was divided geographically, and an OH nurse was put in charge of each of the three areas. Effective working relationships were developed in each division with HR officers. A more structured approach to referral was introduced, including an audit trail. Initial feedback from the divisions is very good.

Judge’s comment: “A good example of a nurse-led service providing real benefits to line managers and the organisation, resulting in an increased awareness of the role of the OH service with positive outcomes.”

The judge: Graham Johnson, operations manager, Bupa Wellness

In an occupational health nursing career spanning 25 years, Graham Johnson has practised in the chemical, shipbuilding, and motor manufacturing sectors and the NHS. He is a former chair of the Royal College of Nursing Society of Occupational Health Nursing, past secretary of the Nursing Committee of the International Commission on Occupational Health Nursing, and a member of the editorial board of Occupational Health journal. He is a practice teacher and has recently been appointed as a Nursing and Midwifery Council reviewer. He has a particular interest in latex allergies and writes and comments extensively on the correct glove selection and the management of glove allergies.

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