Almost one in four sick days among firefighters were for mental health issues

Fire chiefs are aiming to increase mental health support for firefighters after it was revealed to be the top cause of sickness absence.

Sunday, 3rd March 2019, 2:46 pm
Updated Monday, 4th March 2019, 7:32 am
Cleveland Fire brigade headquarters in Hartlepool.
Cleveland Fire brigade headquarters in Hartlepool.

Figures from Cleveland Fire Authority showed that 23% of sickness duty days from April 2018 to December 2018 were classed as mental health issues, which is down from 32% last year.

However, it still makes up the largest proportion of employee absences across the fire service ahead of musculoskeletal conditions with 18% and gastrointestinal with 15%.

In total the average number of duty days lost to sickness absence per employee for all staff has risen from this time last year from 5.01 to 6.19, an increase of 24%.

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Karen Winter, director of corporate services for Cleveland Fire Brigade, said the topic of mental health is high on the agenda for the fire service and matters are being put in place.

She said: “We are putting this as our focus for the next four years as part of our health and well-being strategy.

“We have worked with Mind and we are now training our firefighters and members of staff to be mental health champions.

“It’s so people can go to people within the organisation to seek help.

“We’ve got a number of things in place but mental health is so wide and varied.

“It’s really difficult to get one catch-all for all staff so we have got numerous initiatives in place.”

She added they will look at a full breakdown of all the incidents in greater detail once the financial year has concluded as part of an annual review.

Mike Hill, independent person on Cleveland Fire audit and governance committee, also highlighted the importance of mental health support and praised work being done.

He said: “I think the term used to be mental health first aiders, it’s a really good one, people being trained to help others.

“The fact you [Cleveland Fire Brigade] are doing that is a good one.”

Fire chiefs also added they are working with Cleveland Police in providing support to train people to be mental health champions.

Coun Neil Bendelow, who also sits on the committee, also said he would be interested in seeing a breakdown of cases after the work Cleveland Fire Authority had done in terms of mental health.

He said: “Last year the sickness went down massively and I think mental health was an issue there.

“I’ve been saying it since I’ve been on the authority about mental health and I think we put a lot of good new things in place, such as the mental health champions.”

Nic Marko, Local Democracy Reporting Service