Stress keeps one-in-seven home helpers off work sick
SCORES of home helpers in Edinburgh have been signed off sick due to the stress of their jobs.
An average of one in seven is absent on any given day, with stress singled out as the predominant cause.
Unions say home helpers have a particularly stressful job, as they often work alone and sometimes look after vulnerable residents. The city council and public sector union Unison will now examine what can be done to bring sickness levels down.
Although figures have dropped steadily since March, the 13.55 per cent absence rate among the 1200-strong workforce is considerably higher than the council's overall figure of 5.64 per cent, and also the national public sector average of 4.3 per cent.
John Ross of Unison said today: "A lot of the work home helps do is of a physical nature, such as lifting elderly residents or helping them bathe. They also do a lot of lone working, so that puts additional stress on them.
"They also have to make their own decisions - they haven't got peers to work off and have no direct supervision.
"They are also dealing with elderly people, who may have mobility problems. All this puts a lot of responsibility on the staff."
Mr Ross said a group was being set up to look at stress levels. "We would always like to see sickness rates lowered," he said.
"The group will look to find the root cause for absences, and see if additional measures can be taken to reduce sickness levels."
The new figures are for the six months to July this year. Among non-manual workers in the health and social care department - such as social workers - the sickness rate was 8.16 per cent. Once this is adjusted to exclude long-term absences, the figures fall to around the four per cent mark.
However, the way the council works out its figures - the number of days absent divided by the number of available working days - is slightly flawed, as it records part-time shifts as whole days. The true sickness rate is, therefore, likely to be slightly lower. A council spokeswoman said: "Sickness absence rates in the department of health and social care have been improving since March.
"We are actively addressing sickness absence as a matter of priority. A number of strategies have been put in place which have contributed to this improvement and which will continue to support staff and help to reduce absences further."
The council's action plan includes referring employees to the occupational health service. More than 600 people saw an adviser between October last year and July 2007. They then have a follow-up meeting with their managers.
Back problems have also been identified as a common cause for long-term absence, particularly among home helps, and a pilot scheme has been launched to give workers fast-track access to a physiotherapist. It is hoped this will enable staff to return to work sooner.
The council's director of health and social care, Peter Gabbitas, said: "Analysis of reasons for sickness absence has shown that stress is a predominant cause.
"The level of stress and its impact in the department is currently under investigation to find ways to alleviate the causes of any work-related stress, or to help employees deal with stress better."
The health and social care department in Edinburgh is facing serious financial pressures, but Unison said it did not believe this had impacted on the stress levels of staff.
Under proposals from council officials, a number of home helpers were to be offered voluntary redundancy or redeployment, but councillors rejected this approach.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 6 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west