According to the CIPD absence survey for 2009 the average level of sickness absence is 7.4 days per employee (Public sector 9.7, private sector 6.4). This costs the employer £692 per employee on average. It costs the UK economy £17.3 billion overall.

Minor illnesses, musculoskeletal conditions and stress are the main causes of sickness absence. 60% of organisations will use Occupational Health Services and the involvement of Occupational Health professionals is rated as the most effective approach for managing long term sickness absence by all the main employer sectors.

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Rehabilitation is the key to helping employees return to work, studies show:

  • After 6 months absence there is only a 50% chance that the employee will return to work
  • At 12 months this falls to 25%
  • After 2 years there is practically no chance that the employee will return to work

Musculo-skeletal Disorders

According to the HSE, the risk factors for musculo-skeletal disorders can be found in virtually every workplace. Hazardous activities include:

  • Repetitive and heavy lifting
  • Bending and twisting
  • Inappropriate working position
  • Not acting upon reports of symptoms quick enough
  • Working too long without breaks

The Fit for Work Europe report, found that 49% of all European sickness absences were caused by musculo-skeletal conditions like back pain, arthritis and repetitive strain injuries.

The report showed an estimated one million people in the UK suffer from musculoskeletal disorders, causing 9.5 million working days to be lost each year.

Stress at Work

According to the CIPD absence survey for 2009 stress is the second highest cause of short term absence and the number one cause of long term absence amongst non-manual workers. HSE research has shown that about half a million people in the UK experience work-related stress at a level they believe is making them ill.

Several high profile cases have involved large compensation payouts for employees. In 1995 a social worker was awarded £175,000 following a series of nervous breakdowns related to the pressure of work.

The cost of the case, when taking into account legal costs, sick pay and pension was nearer £500,000. Since then higher payments have been made.

Find out more about occupational health assessments.