President of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP), Ms Annette Shanahan, said musculoskeletal disorders are consistently the most commonly type of work-related illness, accounting for over half of sickness absence in the health services alone.
“Back, neck and limb injuries are widespread and are responsible for significant days lost,” she said. “However, recent UK research has shown that sickness/injury absence can be reduced by as much as 25%, saving employers in Ireland hundreds of millions of euro, if proper rehabilitation programmes are put in place.
“Unfortunately, in Ireland, where absenteeism is costing business more than €1billion per annum, we have failed to put recovery programmes in place. This is prolonging absence from work for much longer than necessary and placing a massive cost on their employers as a result.
British research has shown such programmes have netted companies a return of £5 for every £1 invested.
Limerick-based, Ms Shanahan, who specialises in occupational health, pointed to recent estimates from the Small Firms Association, which showed absenteeism is costing their members over €563m per annum, as proof of the need for intervention.
“You can multiply the cost to small firms a number of times over for the entire Irish workforce, which has an annual absenteeism of eight working days per employee,” she said. “In the public sector the problem seems to be even worse, running at double the private sector in some instances. In the HSE, for example, up to €100m would be saved if absenteeism rates were halved.
The Royal Mail in Britain made substantial savings by providing support and physiotherapy to staff. Between 2004 and 2007, as a result of the introduction of their programme, sickness absence was reduced by 25% and a total of 3,600 employees who were absent through illness or injury, returned to work.
Absenteeism and restricted duties which cost the company £1,384,501 previously has now fallen to £127,738.