Rise in sick days among Cleveland Fire Brigade staff due to mental health and 'musculoskeletal' issues

Fire brigade sickness absences have risen by 51% compared to the same period last year, with mental health issues the most common reason.

Tuesday, 19th November 2019, 4:45 pm
Cleveland Fire Brigade headquarters in Hartlepool.

The average number of duty days lost to sickness absence per employee at Cleveland Fire Brigade increased from 3.52 to 5.33 from April to the end of September, compared to the same period last year.

Although mental health issues were the most common cause for absence across the brigade, with 25%, or 745 shifts, musculoskeletal issues were the top cause for firefighter absences from work.

Ian Hayton, chief fire officer at Cleveland Fire Brigade, told the audit and governance committee they have occupational health consultants on offer and a brigade wide health and wellbeing support programme.

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Ian Hayton.

He said: “As it’s presented it looks like mental health is the primary causation of sickness.

“Certainly in the wholetime and retained firefighters it’s musculoskeletal injuries first and mental health second.

“Within our corporate staff and our control room staff it’s mental health first, and then musculoskeletal second.

“If someone is suffering from a mental health episode there are so many different factors and influences for whatever is going on in people’s lives at that point in time.

“There has been in the past an element of stigma attached to actually declaring mental health issues.

“It’s certainly got past that where people will openly talk about the issues that they have, in the past mental health issues have been discarded as something else.

“We have moved and put various support mechanisms in place to enable those conversations, but it’s not a simple process.”

Tim Graham, head of risk and performance, said there have been increases in sickness across all staff groups, increasing by 28% for wholetime firefighters, 113% for retained staff and 60% for fire control officers.

Musculoskeletal lower limb issues account for 19% of all staff absences, around 530 shifts, and upper limb issues account for 10%, around 300 shifts.

Coun Marjorie James, Hartlepool Borough Council representative on the committee, urged the importance of giving staff support with their mental health given the tasks they face.

She said: “I would want to be very clear as the legal employer that we are supporting our staff.

“There’s also the fact firefighters see horrible and horrendous issues over at car accidents and genuine fires where people are involved.”