Council give staff health advice to curb sick days

Aberdeen City Council have had problems with sick day staff. Picture: Creative Commons
Aberdeen City Council have had problems with sick day staff. Picture: Creative Commons
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New measures are being introduced to help reduce staff sick leave at a council with one of the worst absence rates in Scotland.

Increasing numbers of employees at Aberdeen City Council have been signed off ill long-term over the past year.

More than half of these absences were attributed to musculoskeletal and psychological problems with the majority of staff working in the housing and education departments.

The number of staff calling in sick on a short-term basis has also risen.

New figures now show that the average worker was off sick for 10.4 days last year, an increase of 0.1 days in the previous 12 months.

This compares to the average worker in the UK taking only 4.4 days off through sickness, according to an Office for National Statistics report published last year.

Now council bosses have decided to introduce new measures to combat the problem and avoid the added costs of hiring agency cover or paying staff for overtime.

A report prepared for the finance, policy and resources committee said: “The reason for the increase in sickness absence is mainly attributed to a rise in the number of days lost to long-term sickness and the number of employees off long-term. Through analysing this it shows that the organisation needs to improve how it deals with long-term sickness.

“Also we need to review the existing preventative measures to avoid employees going off long-term in the first place.”

The report revealed that 212 staff were signed off on long-term sick leave in June compared to 156 employees three months earlier.

Employees were also noted as being off ill due to gastrointestinal, neurological and viral conditions. And five people had retired early because of health problems.

New preventative measures were previously introduced to help reduce the number of staff signing off sick.

But the new report has revealed that council bosses are drawing up plans to help improve the health of employees.The report said: “In addition to the existing approach to prevent absence including flu jabs, health assessments, smoking cessation assistance programmes, tool box talks etc, we are seeking to go more on the ‘front foot’ in preventing sickness by looking at training staff and giving staff more and more information to assist them to lead a healthier lifestyle.”

Council officers are also working with trade unions to develop a scheme which will see staff off on long-term sick leave carry out “alternative duties” until they are fit to return to their role.

The council is part of a local government forum with other Scottish local authorities looking at absence levels. The forum will be meeting on a regular basis to identify best practice from other councils.

Last year West Dunbartonshire Council had the worst absence rate in the country with employees off work for an average of 12.8 days.

Eben Wilson, director of Taxpayer Scotland, said: “The public sector is quite clearly not as efficient as it could be. It may be the nature of the job. Once again we can see that tax-funded organisations allow our money to be used ineffectively simply because the incentive to work hard and take responsibility seems to be missing.”