Rising claims for repetitive strain injury (RSI) and stress-related illness are pushing employer liability premiums closer to levels faced by blue collar firms, warns PPP healthcare corporate development director Dudley Lusted.

He told a CBI gathering on absence management that increasing levels of employee stress were a by-product of managers failing to train supervisors in people management.

Lusted said: “The recent surge in stress-related personal injury awards leaves no doubt about an employer's liability regarding an employee's mental health.”

He added: “As RSI and stress claims accumulate, it will not be long before premiums (for white collar firms) will be as high as that of manufacturers.”

The CBI conference was told that work absence lasted an average of 7.8 days and costs employers a total of £10.7bn a year, or £434 per individual. Manual workers recorded an average of 9.5 days absence, compared to 6.3 days for white collar workers.

Lusted said some companies were spending up to 20% of their payroll costs on ill health, while the figure for well managed companies was 8%. He said more was not being done to tackle these costs because companies did not fully understand the costs of workplace absence. One reason for this is that ill-health costs are not measured on most companies' balance sheets.

Lusted outlined five measures which would allow companies to better manage worker absence. These were:

  • how many employees were killed at or by work (including suicides) and how many required more than three days absence
  • how many people were made ill by work
  • how many retired early for ill health reasons
  • what percentage of time lost was attributable to sickness absence
  • what were the total costs of the four measures?

    Figures on these measures were available from employer liability insurers, pension trustees and the TUC.

    Lusted said workplace counselling services were a good way of addressing the issue of stress. Not only did this boost morale by showing employees that their company cared for them, but they also helped build an audit trail for companies to demonstrate they had met their duty of care to safeguard employees' health and safety.