the fire service in 1998/99 at an estimated cost of approximately
#56m, according to an HM Fire Service Inspectorate report published
Retirements in the Fire Service in England, Wales and Northern
Ireland' concludes that a number of brigades have taken action in
recent years with corresponding reductions in sickness absence.
Not all brigades have addressed the problem as absence rates within
brigades varied between 5.3 and 15.8 shifts per person in 1998/99.
The report's findings include:
- Wholetime uniformed personnel - the majority of the fire service's
employees - lost an average of 9 shifts per person in 1998/99, less
than in many other areas of employment in the public and private
sectors. Around a third of uniformed staff took no sick leave at all
during this period.
- There has been a significant improvement over the past few years in
the proportion of employees retiring on ill-health grounds, but the
fire service continues to perform less well than most other
- There is wide variation in brigades' performance, with between
0.33% and 3.33% of wholetime uniformed staff retiring prematurely on
ill-health grounds. The Government Actuary's Department has
calculated the average additional cost of each ill-health retirement
- If brigades could achieve the average sickness absence rates of the
25% top performing brigades (an annual average loss of 6.5 shifts per
employee) cost savings of up to #14m could be achieved.
- If every brigade performed at the average of the 25% best
performing brigades (0.69% of employees retiring due to ill-health),
some two thirds of the current number of ill-health retirements could
be prevented, saving between #23m and #26m a year.
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Fire, Graham Meldrum said:
'Our investigations revealed that real improvements have been made in
recent years by some brigades, but sickness absence and early medical
retirement are issues other brigades have still to get to grips with.
'We have identified a number of areas which require improvement or
consideration, ranging from information management systems to
occupational health facilities.
'The report sets down 32 detailed recommendations which we hope will
be acted on as soon as is practically possible.
'These recommendations will enable the fire service to make further
progress in reducing sickness absence and retirements due to
ill-health, and help provide a more efficient and cost effective
service to the public.'
Recommendations from the report include:
- Fire brigades should capture, collate and analyse information about
all sickness absence and ill-health retirements for all employees
using common methodology. The Home Office should provide guidance on
the protocols to be adopted.
- All fire authorities should have integrated corporate health
strategies, and fire brigades should have effective and targeted
attendance management policies and procedures.
- Fire authorities should set performance targets aimed at achieving
the average of the best performing 25% of fire brigades within five
- Fire authorities should have effective systems in place to identify
the incidence and causes of work related stress and take all possible
action to remove or reduce these. HM Fire Inspectorate should liaise
with the Health and Safety Executive with a view to developing a
generic psychological risk assessment and guidance for the service.
- Fire authorities should be informed regularly about their fire
brigade's performance in comparison with others in managing sickness
absence, and its human and financial costs.
- In consultation with all relevant and interested parties, the Home
Office should determine and give guidance on the means by which
improved consistency can be achieved in the application of medical
standards and guidance.
- Routine six-monthly fitness checks should be compulsory for all
operational personnel (wholetime and retained) and offered on a
voluntary basis to all other staff. The Home Office should give
guidance on the way these should be conducted.
- All fire authorities should ensure that their occupational health
provision meets good practice, the performance is closely monitored,
and meets the requirements of Best Value.
- The Home Office should develop an independent and objective
procedure for making medical decisions in relation to ill-health
- Fire authorities should ensure that robust procedures exist for
determining the level of injury awards using all available employment
and medical information.
- The Home Office should either amend the Discipline Regulations or
issue other guidance to fire authorities with a view to preventing
ill-health retirements taking place while disciplinary charges are
pending, other than in the most exceptional circumstances.
NOTES FOR EDITORS
1. Media copies of 'Fit For Duty? - A Thematic Review of Sickness and
Ill Health Retirements in the Fire Service in England, Wales and
Northern Ireland' are available from the Home Office Press Office on
0171 273 4640.
2. The thematic review is available on the Home Office website at:
3. The review's terms of reference were:
- To gather, collate and analyse, detailed evidence about the
occurrence of, and reasons for, absence from work due to sickness
recorded by each category of employee in fire brigades in England,
Wales and Northern Ireland. To compare the findings with recorded
data from a cross section of other public and private sector
- To examine and report upon the sickness absence management policies
and practices in fire brigades, and in a cross section of other
public and private sector organisations. To consider the adequacy and
effectiveness of these and identify good management practice.
- To examine and report upon the provision of occupational health
facilities for monitoring and enhancing the occupational health and
welfare of fire service employees, and the effectiveness of these
- To collate and consider information relating to the medical
standards currently applied in fire brigades.
- To gather, collate and analyse, detailed evidence about the
occurrence, and reasons for, premature retirement from the fire
service due to ill-health.
- To examine and report upon the management policies and practices
adopted by fire authorities to reduce the incidence of premature
retirement due to ill-health. To consider the effectiveness of these
and identify good practice.
- To investigate and identify good practice that will assist in the
reduction of sickness absence and ill-health retirements, and to
make recommendations on associated issues which constrain and/or
impact adversely upon the management of these matters.
COI5749 4 GHO 341
FIRE/STATEMENT BY HOME OFFICE MINISTER :SICKNESS AND ILL-HEALTH
STAT 012/2000 2 March 2000 0171 273 4640
STATEMENT BY HOME OFFICE MINISTER MIKE O'BRIEN ON THE THEMATIC REVIEW
OF SICKNESS AND ILL-HEALTH RETIREMENTS IN THE FIRE SERVICE
Responding to the publication of 'Fit For Duty? - A Thematic Review
of Sickness and Ill Health Retirements in the Fire Service in
England, Wales and Northern Ireland', Home Office Minister Mike
'The Government has committed itself to reducing the incidence of
sickness throughout the public sector, and therefore this report's
publication is timely.
'Sickness absence and retirements on health grounds have financial
implications. Not only for the Fire Service but for the public who
fund them. The Government agrees that there is significant potential
for cost savings.
'It is encouraging that many fire brigades have reduced levels of
absence in their uniformed staff in recent years. Nevertheless, all
fire authorities should take steps to reduce their sickness absence
and ill health retirement rates by 25% within five years and the
report makes a number of recommendations as to how this could be
'The report highlights the variations between brigades as to how
sickness absence is calculated, and recommends that standardised
records throughout the service are introduced. The Home Office will
provide the guidance and protocols for this, and the Inspectorate
will be responsible for collating and producing this data on an
'I am grateful to the Inspectorate for providing such a detailed
report and the 32 recommendations contained within it. I intend that,
together with the employers, Chief Fire Officers, representative
bodies and the Personnel and Training Committee of the Central Fire
Brigades Advisory Council, that the report's recommendations are
discussed in detail and taken forward as a matter of priority.'