More firefighters go off sick with 'stress'
STRESSED-OUT firefighters struggling under the pressure of extra work are missing hundreds of shifts after calling in sick.
Latest figures show Staffordshire firefighters missed 514 shifts with stress and anxiety between April and September.
That compares with 190 lost shifts with the same condition over the same period last year.
It means stress and anxiety is now by far the most common reason for employees calling in sick at Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service.
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Union leaders today blamed the sickness absences on pressures at work.
But brigade officials say there is no evidence budget cuts are to blame and denied the number of firefighters was in decline.
Barry Downey, secretary of the Fire Brigades' Union's (FBU) Staffordshire branch, said: "With the number of firefighters falling year-on-year there are less and less of us, but the same job needs to be done so firefighters are doing more and more.
"Clearly some of our personnel will be suffering from work-related stress because of that."
It has also been suggested that support staff are under stress because of the threat of redundancy.
Mr Downey added: "We have union members who work in the control room. That role is looking at being merged with West Midlands so those jobs are certainly at risk.
"Staff there could certainly be concerned about their job security."
The brigade, which employed about 900 firefighters at the start of this year, must save £4 million between 2011 and 2015 as part of the Government's spending review.
Overall, long-term sickness among staff has gone up, with 1,124 shifts lost from April to December this year, compared with 716 last year.
Meanwhile, short-term sickness has gone down, with 752 shifts lost from April to December this year, compared with 941 last year.
The fire service said there was no evidence that increased pressure at work accounted for the rise in stress-related sickness.
Director of People Judith Doran said: "We have a small number of staff on longer term absence related to both musculoskeletal problems and psychological wellbeing, which has resulted in an upward trend over the last six months.
"The increase is based on a small number of long-term absences from a cross-section of staff with a variety of causes, not all related to work.
"We actually have more firefighters currently than a couple of years ago – it is only senior operational staff who have recently retired who have not all been replaced, as existing members of staff have moved into those positions instead."