Objectives Sickness absence (SA) among healthcare workers is associated with occupational and non-occupational risk factors and impacts employee health, healthcare delivery and patient health. At the same time, healthcare is one of the employment sectors with the highest rates of work-related ill health in the UK. Musculoskeletal (MSK) and mental health (MH) issues are leading causes of SA, but there is a lack of research on how certain MSK/MH conditions impact on SA duration. The study aim is to determine differences in SA duration by MH and MSK disorders in healthcare employees. Methods Survival analyses were used to estimate SA duration due to MSK and MH problems over 6 years, and Cox’s proportional hazards models to determine the HRs of returning to work, using a bespoke Scottish health board database with over 53 000 SA events. SA duration and time to return-to-work (RTW) were estimated for employees by age, gender, job and health conditions. Results MSK and MH conditions accounted for 27% and 6% of all SA events and 23.7% and 19.5% of all days lost, respectively. Average SA duration was 43.5 days for MSK and 53.9 days for MH conditions. For MSK conditions, employees with low back or neck pain had the fastest RTW (median P 50 : 7 days), whereas employees absent due to depression took the longest (P 50 : 54 days). The most influential sociodemographic variables affecting RTW were age, gender and job category. Conclusions Using a unique and rich database, we found significant differences in SA duration by presenting condition in healthcare workers. MH conditions, and depression specifically, accounted for the most working days’ absence. Significant variations in duration were also observed for MSK conditions. Our findings can inform public health practitioners and healthcare managers of the most significant factors impacting MSK-related and MH-related SA to develop and implement tailored and targeted workplace interventions.
Open access, Occupational and environmental medicine