Staff absences at the Vale of Glamorgan Council has gone up by a fifth in just one year amid a sharp rise in the number of council employees suffering physical injuries.
Council staff were off work due to injuries or illnesses around 20% more in the five months between April and August this year than in the same period in 2019.
That includes hundreds more work days being lost due to physical injuries.
The number of days lost due to staff suffering from musculoskeletal injuries, such as joints, bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons, grew from 1,903.5 in the first five months of 2018-19 to 2,742.34 a year later – an increase of 44%.
The musculoskeletal injury figures, which don’t include back problems, most often relate to active and physical workloads.
The biggest increase in this type of injury was in adult social services.Overall lost work days due to staff absences grew from 12,690 in the first five months of 2018-19 to 15,235 a year later.
Two thirds of staff absences are due to people being on long-term sickness – only non-work related stress and viral infections contribute more than musculoskeletal injuries to the council’s sickness absence rates.
Plaid Cymru councillors have expressed concern at the substantial increase in staff absences at the council and have called for trade unions to be part of the solution.
Plaid councillor Ian Johnson said: “It was very worrying to see a 20% increase in staff absence in summer 2019, compared to the previous year, and particularly a rise of 44% in musculoskeletal issues.
“We don’t know whether these took place at work for the council, or elsewhere, but the highest rates were in departments where much of the work is physical, helping to move either goods or people.
“If the Vale council wants to continue to be recognised as a good employer then they need to act quickly to discover why there has been such an increase in absences this summer compared to last year.
“Plaid Cymru believes that the council’s trade unions have a role in helping council HR understand what’s going wrong and help staff get back to productive work safely.”
A Vale of Glamorgan Council spokesperson said: “The Council has taken note of this data and will analyse it in detail before drawing up a plan to address the increase in absence rates.
“We already work closely with recognised trade unions to manage staff issues and rely on these bodies to help support the workforce. In fact, the current sickness rates and report on musculoskeletal absence were discussed with the local and regional trade unions at a meeting this week.
“In order to combat the matter of staff absence, the Council operates an employee assistance programme to support those on sickness absence together with referring employees to Occupational Health where appropriate. We are also reviewing our Attendance and Wellbeing Policy, but most importantly we have strengthened our approach to staff engagement - and the measurement of it - significantly over the last 18 months.”
Matt Discombe covers Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan as part of the BBC's Local Democracy Reporter project, which is aimed at enhancing reporting from local authorities across the UK.