More staff absences in health than any other sector

Work-related injuries and illness greatest among health employees, research finds

The health sector has the highest rate of work absences as a result of injury and illness, new research has found.

These rates climbed during the recession when absences in other sectors dropped.

Some of the increases may be explained by the fact job growth continued in the health sector even after the economic collapse – an experience opposite to that of other areas of employment.

Detailed reports compiled by the Economic and Social Research Unit (ESRI) and the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) examined work-related injuries and illness in five sectors between 2001 and 2014.


The analysis drew on the self-reported experiences of workers as part of the Central Statistics Office’s (CSO) quarterly national household surveys.

It looked at those who work in the areas of health; construction; industry, including manufacturing and utilities; transport and storage; and agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Overall, the health sector was found to have the highest amount of work absences. Some of the increase in injury and illness-related absences in health could have been a result of rising employment. It had about a quarter of a million employees between 2013 and 2014, and was “one of the few sectors to show positive employment growth throughout the 2000s, even during the severe recession”.

Musculoskeletal disorders

During the boom period of 2001 to 2007, it accounted for 10.1 per cent of total employment, rising to 12.9 per cent during the recession, and again to 13.1 per cent during between 2012 and 2014.

The main illness experienced by health workers was due to musculoskeletal disorders – which typically occur in tendons, muscles, joints and blood vessels or nerves in the limbs and back. These accounted for about 46 per cent of cases, similar to other sectors which recorded a 47 per cent rate.

Stress, anxiety and depression were also more common illnesses in health (22 per cent) than in other types of employment (16 per cent).

Rates of work-related illness in the health sector were “significantly higher in the boom”, at 4 per cent, compared to the recession, at 2.8 per cent, the research found.

“Overall, there has been a rising trend of injury and illness in the health sector since 2010,” it said.

Work-related fatalities

“Self-employed health workers who may be well-educated and in professional occupation have a lower rate of both injury and illness.” This cohort includes GPs and physiotherapists.

Work-related fatalities were highest in the agriculture, forest and fishing industries. The five sectors measured by the reports accounted for 41 per cent of employment in Ireland in 2014, and 56 per cent of all work place injuries.

Helen Russell, research professor at the ESRI, said that while the improving economy was creating employment growth this could bring its own issues.

“Our research shows that new recruits in construction, health, agriculture and transport have a significantly higher risk of occupational injury,” she said. “Hence, there is need for supervision, training and support to prevent rising injury and illness rates.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times