Fire support staff take 9.7 sick days each year

Back office staff at West Midlands Fire Service are taking nearly twice as many sick days as front-line firefighters, it has emerged.

Back office staff at West Midlands Fire Service are taking nearly twice as many sick days as front-line firefighters, it has emerged.

An audit is under way in a bid to cut absence.

Uniformed staff are taking an average of five days sick for the 2011/12 financial year to date, compared to 9.7 days for non-uniformed and fire control staff, figures have revealed.

The sickness statistics were presented to chiefs of the West Midlands Fire Authority as one of 22 indicators of the service’s performance at a meeting this week.

The service is aiming to cut the overall average of sick days across its uniformed and non-uniformed staff to 5.5 days next year.

The average sickness absence for councils is about eight days and in the private sector it is between six and six-and-a-half days per employee. In the public sector overall, the average level in 2011 was 9.1 days per employee.

The main reasons for higher absence levels at the fire service were mental health and stress and muscular skeletal problems, including back pain.

Employees are already required to call their bosses on the first day of sickness, and the use of occupational health advisors has already gone some way to reducing absence, bosses said.

Chiefs at the authority also said they had already introduced return-to-work interviews.

This is  an initiative made popular in the private sector, where managers talk to employees returning from time off to establish the reason and how employers can improve things for their staff.

David Johnson, director of human resources at the authority, said: “Over a number of years the service has been successful in reducing the levels of employee sickness absence.

“This has been due to pro-active management, the introduction of effective supportive policies and the early intervention of the services occupational health unit.

“Overall, our performance in managing sickness absence is amongst the best in the sector.”