BBC Radio 4 gives air time to cutting sickness absence

In anticipation of Dame Carol Black’s forthcoming review of the sickness absence system in Great Britain, the topic of sickness absence was the focus of yesterday’s edition of You and Yours* on BBC Radio 4 (Wednesday 16 November). The host, Winifred Robinson, was in discussion with:

  • Mark Bayliss from the UK Rehabilitation Council, which works to ensure access to high-quality medical and vocational rehabilitation services in the UK);
  • Paul Campbell from the GMB trade union (a campaigning trade union with members in every part of the UK economy);
  • Iain Hovell from Rentokil Initial;
  • Terry Birch (an employee at Citilink, which is part of Rentokil Initial).

Mark Bayliss (from the UK Rehabilitation Council) explained that he believes the UK has a good workplace safety record but is not so good at rehabilitation (i.e. getting people back to work) because (according to Mr Bayliss):

  • rehabilitation is generally under-resourced and under-valued in the UK even though getting people back to health/work as quickly as possible has been shown to be the best approach;
  • some employers still hold the opinion that ill employees are not their concern (whilst, in reality, evidence has shown that organisations that look after their staff are more productive and profitable).

Whilst many small employers view rehabilitation services as an extra expense, Mr Bayliss views rehabilitation as a business investment, which pays for itself very quickly.

Terry Birch, a driver for Citilink (which is part of Rentokil Initial) who was injured at work, spoke on the programme about the high level of support he received from his employer. He simply called his organisation’s Accident Helpline, which organised everything and provided physiotherapy the following week. Of course, Rentokil Initial is a huge organisation with vast resources in comparison to small businesses, but the notions behind Rentokil Initial’s new system of support for employees (described on the programme by Iain Hovell) apply to all organisations, regardless of their size, namely:

  •  preventing injuries/illness;
  • alleviating employees’ suffering in case of incidents;
  • getting employees back to work as soon as possible.

He admits that his organisation benefits greatly from this approach in terms of saving on the costs of replacement staff, re-training, etc. but suggests that employees possibly benefit even more.

Paul Campbell from the GMB spoke of his experiences employees who have been signed off work due to work-related injury or long-term illness and have received no contact from their employer throughout their absence except a letter warning of potential disciplinary action. He explained that whilst many employees presume that their contract will remain in place if they are signed off as unfit for work due to medical reasons, some employers still perceive the contract to have been broken.

There is no doubt that it is in everyone’s interests to keep people at work and support employees who want to return to work after illness/injury. For more guidance, speak to the free Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

*This edition of ‘You and Yours’ can be listened to on the ‘You and Yours’ website until Wednesday 24 November. Some editions of the programme are converted into transcripts, which are also available on the website, although these do not appear for approximately one month after the programme is aired.

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