Key findings from the survey, covering 165 companies, were:

  • Average work-related absence amongst manufacturers is 4%
  • One in six companies has no long-term sickness absence
  • Almost a third of companies do not record long-term sickness absence
  • A third of companies identify work related absence but two fifths do not
  • Work related stress affects widest array of companies, especially the largest, but one fifth of all companies not addressing
  • But all companies adopting a wide array of measures to enable return to work, flexible working most prevalent
  • 81% of companies have access to an Occupational Health service

  • Britain’s manufacturers are urging the Government to use its review Occupational Health (OH) provision in the UK to ensure all companies have access to an OH service as part of a much wider overarching strategy for tackling more than just work-related sickness absence.

    The call comes on the back of a major survey of Work and Health by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation and specialist insurance broker Howden. It shows that whilst most employers are providing their employees with access to OH services, many are still not recording work related absence or are unclear about whether their risk control measures and OH management have an impact on the number of cases of work-related ill-health.

    The survey also shows that waiting time for medical surgery/investigation, tests and recovery from surgery remains the biggest cause of work-related absence followed by stress.

    Commenting, Terry Woolmer, head of health & safety policy at EEF said: “It has long been recognised that a healthy workforce is a more productive workforce. Investment in the wellbeing of employees by both the employer and Government makes sense not just for good business practice but also the benefits to wider society from reduced benefits and pressure on a stretched NHS system.

    “The focus on Occupational Health needs to regain momentum, however, especially given the upward trend of a number of causes of long-term absence. This should involve practical short-term measures such as a replacement for the ‘Fit for Work’ service, as well as a long-term focus on a wider strategy for employee health that goes way beyond just managing absence.”

    Glenn Thomas, managing director of employee benefits for Howden UK added: “In addition to Government provision, manufacturing businesses also have a role to play. It’s encouraging to see that manufacturers are making use of Occupational Health (OH) provisions within the workplace and are adopting a broad range of methods, for instance 38% adopting an employee assistant programme (EAP) to help combat work related stress.

    “Whilst employee wellbeing is high on industry agendas it is apparent that businesses need to maximise return on their benefit spend. This is echoed in the report, with many companies not knowing whether the measures they put in place are reducing absences or having a positive impact on employee health and wellbeing. Business leaders need to engage with employees to find out which services are best suited and make sure that employees are using the benefits provided to them.”

    EEF has made the following recommendations:

  • Government must find an urgent replacement for the ‘Fit for Work’ service to manage long term absence. If this is not to involve GPs then Government must facilitate the development of OH networks and/or providers to enable employers to development effective return to work plans.
  • Involve organisations such as the Health & Safety Executive to help keep up momentum on OH and to help prioritise the treatment of work-related ill health
  • Use HSE to rebuild intelligence on which workplaces are making employees ill and how, re-establishing a similar body to the Employment Medical Advisory Service. This could form part of the OH solution currently being considered by the Department for Work & Pensions.
  • Encourage HSE to develop key performance indicators with industry sectors to enable companies to assess the impact their controls and interventions are having on reducing workplace ill health and absence.
  • Ensure the Government review of OH is not just narrowly focused on managing sickness absence and focuses on a wider range of activities such as health surveillance.