'˜Real concern' as sickness rates rise for council workers

Stress and mental health problems have led to a rise in the number of sick days by council staff.

Wednesday, 27th June 2018, 9:02 am
Updated Wednesday, 27th June 2018, 9:03 am
County Hall, the headquarters of Durham County Council.

According to data for 2017/18, workers at Durham County Council (DCC) lost an average of 11.08 days through sickness.

Of that, more than 60% was long term and the majority was mental health related.

Discussing the figures at today’s Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Management Board meeting in Crook, Coun Fraser Tinsley said: “We’re looking at a situation where it’s over 11 days for staff sickness and the reason we’re given is mental health and stress.

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“The national average is 4.3 in the private sector, in the public sector it’s 6.4 – why have we got such a high sickness rate?”

He added: “It’s a real area of concern across the whole organisation.”

At the end of Q4 last year, council workers lost an average of 10.48 days to sickness, marking the sixth quarter in a row in which the absence rate had fallen.

Coun Richard Bell, the leader of Durham’s Conservatives, echoed the concern, highlighting the emphasis on mental wellbeing encouraged by his own employer.

Responding, Jenny Haworth, the council’s head of planning and performance, said: “We’re bringing forward a programme to try and encourage staff to take their breaks and go for walks at lunch time.

“Our staff getting burn out is in no one’s interest.”

But she also warned of the difficulty of comparing figures for DCC to other industries or even other councils.

She pointed out the council employs staff in a wide range of roles, including officer workers and manual labourers who are more susceptible to back and muscle problems.

She added the council has a ‘greater proportion of the workforce over 50’ compared to other organisations.

 

James Harrison

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service