Sick workers cost economy £100 billion a year

17 March 2008

Ill health is costing the British economy over £100 billion a year, a report has revealed.

According to a report by Dame Carol Black, national director for health and work, people taking time off sick costs the same as running the NHS for a whole year.

Black says this cost could be cut by simply encouraging people to return to work. She suggests replacing sick notes with ‘fit notes’ outlining what employees can – rather than can’t – do, as well as trailing a new Fit for Work service allowing employees access to physiotherapists and other specialists.

Another recent report found that an estimated 3.5 million working days were lost in 2006/07 due to Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) alone.

The average person affected by RSI takes 13 days off sick each year costing employers nearly £300 million through lost working days, sick pay and administration.

The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy warns that RSI is not only a serious risk to workers’ health - it is also a financial burden on companies across the country.

Spokeswoman Bronwyn Clifford said: “Government and employers must do more to protect the health of employees and prevent a further increase in RSI”.

Figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that there were 115,000 new cases of RSI–related injuries last year, up from 86,000 in 2005/6. Clifford says this rise is “totally unnecessary” as the condition can be avoided with safe working practices and appropriate equipment.

She added: “We urge the government to promote the use of occupational health physiotherapists more widely and to work with the HSE to ensure that current legislation is adhered to by all employers.”

Given the economic costs to businesses, it is in employers’ interest to look after their workers.

TUC senior policy officer Hugh Robertson said: “We urge employers to offer staff simple training to stop them developing RSI."

RSI is normally associated with office workers who spend most of their day in front of computers. But surprisingly, HSE figures reveal plumbers, carpenters and other construction workers are actually more likely to suffer from RSI than those in the professional services.

However, if you are a security guard, waiter, cleaner or financial analyst you have a reduced risk of developing the condition, as these professions have the lowest recorded rates of RSI.

What are you entitled to?

If you are employed in a contract of service and have been off work sick for four or more consecutive days – including weekends and bank holidays - then you could be entitled to statutory sick pay (SSP).

The standard rate of SSP is £72.55 a day, paid after the first three days of sickness. However, to claim you must earn £87 or more a week before tax and National Insurance contributions.

SSP is only paid for a maximum of 28 days. After this you may be eligible for incapacity benefit.

Many companies use their own payment scheme so check with your employer and refer to your contract, as they could offer you a better rate of sick pay.

Top tips to prevent RSI

  • Avoid repetitive tasks
  • Use both hands to lift objects
  • Take frequent short breaks rather than one long one
  • Keep warm – cold muscles don’t extend properly
  • Instead of stretching to perform a particular task, move closer
  • Report pain or other symptoms straight away


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