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Manufacturing sector reports increase in absence - partly due to sick-note culture

More than third of employers (36%) in the manufacturing sector report an increase in absence from 2007 to 2008 and 45% say the sick-note system hampers a return to work.

Research from manufacturers' organisation the EEF and group risk insurance provider Unum shows that surgery, medical investigation or tests is the cause of 60% of long-term staff absence, followed by back problems (34%), cancer (26%) and stress (25%). And 28% of employers who have seen an increase in staff absence claim waiting times for an appointment or diagnosis are a barrier in their return to work.

Sickness absence in the industry each year now stands at 6.2 days per employee.

Although three million fewer days were lost last year in sickness absence compared with 2005, 45% of manufacturers are dissatisfied with the current sick-note system.

Michael O'Donnell, chief medical officer at Unum, said: "Dame Carol Black's ‘fit note' will be a major step forward in addressing attitudes towards sickness and the sooner we can introduce it, the better.

"Changing the mindset and therefore attitudes is the critical first step in bringing about a real and effective change in approach by all parties. The proposed ‘fit for work' initiative should help the NHS follow the recently launched NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidance on long-term sickness absence and incapacity.

"There is still a need for early intervention in the working population to prevent job loss and long-term absence from work"