STAFF sickness rates at Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset councils have risen to more than nine days a year, official figures show.

That figure is more than double the national average for all working people of 4.5 sick days a year.

And increased stress levels due to staffing cuts and increased workloads may be a key factor, it is claimed.

The latest statistics for Bournemouth show that between last September and the end of August this year, employees took an average of 9.11 sick days a year.

This is an increase in last year’s figure of 8.86 and considerably more than the council’s target of 6.5 days. The figure is for workers at all council departments but excluding schools.

In Dorset, 9.15 working days were lost per full-time employee, excluding staff employed by schools or the Dorset Waste Partnership. However, this is below the county council’s target of 9.41 working days.

And the figures were even higher at the Dorset Waste Partner-ship, where 15.93 working days were lost per full-time employee over the course of a year.

In Poole, as of September the average number of sick days, excluding school staff, stood at 9.15 a year, against last year’s figure of 8.58.

Their target is a maximum of eight working days per employee per year.

The rates represent more than double the 4.5 days national average for public and private sector workers, recorded by the Office for National Statistics in their most recent study showing absences for 2011.

Dorset County Council employs around 9,000 staff, Bournemouth just over 2,498 and Poole 1,800, excluding schools.

David Higgins, of Bournemouth Unison, said high levels of stress amongst staff could be a key factor. “I think that’s part of it and also the fact that there’s been such a reduction in staffing levels that staff are now working under greater pressure than ever before,” he said.

“In order to make reductions, the council has not been replacing staff when they have left. That is obviously preferable to making redundancies but it does mean that the remaining staff have bigger and bigger workloads to cope with.

“Plus, in this climate of cuts and reductions, you never know what is coming next and there is a lot of stress and anxiety out there.

“It does not surprise me that sickness rates have gone up.”

'Figures distorted'

SPENCER Flower, Dorset County Council’s spokesman for corporate resources, said the physical work carried out in adult social care can cause injury and absences which ‘distort the figures’.

He said: “In adult social care with lots of lifting there’s a much higher case of absenteeism.

“Without that the averages would be quite a lot lower.”

Cllr Flower said he hopes stress and sickness rates are not linked to staff cuts.

He said: “We are not asking less people to do the same work.

“We are trying to redesign the business so we’ve got less work to do.”