FIREFIGHTERS took almost 400 days off work in the last two years due to stress-related problems.
A Freedom of Information request by the Echo has also revealed the number of days lost to stress by both operational and non-operational firefighters at Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) rocketed from 89 in 2010, to 283 in 2011. In 2012, the figure fell to 111 days.
Meanwhile, 313 shifts were lost at County Durham and Darlington Fire Service from between January and March this year alone.
Union bosses say Government cuts, coupled with some individual cases of long-term absence, mostly accounts for the sharp rise.
“It’s absolutely a given that the cuts and austerity are having an effect on people’s health and welfare,” said the Fire Brigades Union’s Tyne and Wear branch secretary Dave Turner. “As a trade union we do have concerns that the austerity programme is having a direct impact on people’s health, it’s happening everywhere.
“We have 40 per cent fewer firefighters than we had 10 years ago and that has had an impact.”
Mr Turner did, however, praise TWFRS for their occupational health provisions.
“We have a nationally recognised trauma support team to help mitigate the impact of post traumatic stress disorder,” he said.
“As a trade unionist, I’m often critical of management, but on this subject, our management do do more than any other service that I’m aware of.”
John Hindmarch, deputy chief fire officer at TWFRS, said: “Stress can be brought on by a number of issues throughout life from the stresses of family life, relationships or work.
“Historically, the main causes of stress staff have experienced have been domestic or socially related or linked to traumatic incidents.
“However we are seeing an increase in general work-related causes, possibly due to the current economic downturn and the uncertainty of the future caused by reviews and budget cuts.
“We are always concerned about the welfare and fitness of our staff and this is why we have invested in a number of effective mechanisms to support our staff as much as we can.
“The health and well-being of our staff is, and always will be, our priority.”