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An estimated 400,000 working days were lost to sickness absence in ...
An estimated 400,000 working days were lost to sickness absence in

the fire service in 1998/99 at an estimated cost of approximately

#56m, according to an HM Fire Service Inspectorate report published


'Fit For Duty? - A Thematic Review of Sickness and Ill Health

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

employment sectors.

- 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

as #57,000.

- 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.


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



STAT 012/2000 2 March 2000 0171 273 4640



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

O'Brien said:

'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

annual basis.

'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.'

021044 03

021040 03

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