Sickness Absence Recording Tool research and development for HSE.
- Introduction and background
- IOM Sickness Absence Recording Tool (SART) development project for HSE
- The use of SART in the SAM evaluation project and further development of SART.
It is now well recognised that sickness absence is a major cost to industry. A recent CBI/AXA Absence and labour turnover survey ( "Absence minded: Absence and labour turnover 2006", www.cbi.org.uk) reports that the cost to the UK economy was over £13.bn per year. On average, direct costs are estimated at £531 per employee in 2005, or 6.6 working days per employee.
Projecting these results across the UK workforce as a whole suggests that possibly some 164 million working days were lost due to sickness absence. Whilst the majority of sickness absence is short term, over a third of days lost are due to long term sickness absence.
In its figures for 2004/2005 HSE estimates that 35 million working days were lost overall (1.5 days per worker), with 28 million due to work-related ill health and 7 million due to workplace injury. Also, 2.0 million people were suffering from an illness which they believed was caused or made worse by their current or past work.
Surveys indicate that the most common causes of short-term absence are:
- minor illnesses such as colds, flu, stomach upsets and headaches
For long-term sickness absence the most common causes are:
- musculoskeletal injuries
- back pain
- mental health difficulties
Most people suffer, now and again, from minor illnesses that naturally resolve over the short term and may on occasion result in a short time off work sick. However for a small number of employees sickness absence can drift from weeks to months making a return to work less likely. After six weeks absence an employee's ability to return to work falls away rapidly, for example someone with six months' absence due to back pain has only a 50% chance of return.
Although it is known that not all absence is within an employer's control, it is accepted that an employer has a very important role to play in managing and reducing sickness absence and creating a positive and healthy working environment for employees and this is particularly so for longer term absences. Studies demonstrate that the positive management of sickness absence brings about a reduction of its incidence. There is much to be gained by both employers and employees adopting a positive approach to managing sickness absence - one that is based on providing active help to off-sick employees to help them recover and reintegrate back in to work.
There is no legal duty for an employer to manage absence but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) believes that managing absence should be a key and central part of managing all aspects of health in the workplace. It is pivotal to both the prevention of ill health and the retention of sick and disabled workers in employment.
To support employers in improving their practices in managing health at work, the UK HSE saw a need for common tools, structures and guidelines to collect, classify, and record sickness absence data, and in particular to identify potential work related causes, in a way that would be useful to businesses, especially small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), to better manage their business and the health of their whole workforce. The original research and development project to develop SART and associated sickness absence management guidance materials was carried out by the Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOM) for the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), in 2003 - 2004.
The IOM was commissioned to carry out research into Sickness Absence recording methods and to develop a simple, standardised Sickness Absence recording tool that could be used by organisations, particularly SMEs that currently have no absence management and recording system in place. The aims were to investigate the status of sickness absence recording in the UK, and to develop a simple recording tool and accompanying guidance information to assist employers in managing sickness absence.
The first phase of the project carried out research to provide information on the current state of play with regard to absence management systems and procedures used in a sample of UK businesses.
The second phase comprised the production of a simple computerised recording tool, with accompanying management help and guidelines, with links to sources of further information about different aspects of Sickness Absence management, and the production of a coding scheme for classifying sickness absence cause.
The third phase of the project carried out some limited validation of the tool and produced a comprehensive report on the design and implementation. This project was completed in late 2004. A detailed final report on the research and the development of SART is available as a PDF on the HSE website: http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrhtm/rr310.htm
Following that earlier project, SART underwent further testing and evaluation as part of the SAM Project, carried out by a research group at Glasgow university. Currently the SAM project website is no longer available after the completeion of te evaluation. (formerly http://www.thesamproject.org).
Following these trials and subsequent further development and refinement, the tool and accompanying guidance materials were made freely available to employers, downloadable from the HSE Website along with further information on its use, and related information.