South Tyneside firefighter sickness drops to 'lowest for years' during pandemic

Firefighter sickness levels have slumped to their lowest levels in ‘years’ following the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Stock picture from Pixabay of a firefighter in actionStock picture from Pixabay of a firefighter in action
Stock picture from Pixabay of a firefighter in action

According to the latest figures, on the worst single day of the outbreak so far Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service (TWFRS) had 56 workers on leave due to confirmed or suspected COVID-19, or due to other illness-related reasons.

But as of the beginning of July, the numbers had tumbled, with no front line staff forced to take time off as a direct result of the virus.

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“Between May 6 – July 1, our sickness levels reflected the decline of the pandemic generally and [then] improved considerably,” said TWFRS HR director John Rawling.

“The sickness absence levels are now stable.

“Over the last three weeks they have hovered around the same level and currently are actually the lowest they have been for some years.

“That shows a real commitment from our employees and there’s also some interesting things for us to explore.”

Rawling was speaking at a virtual meeting of the Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Authority’s Human Resources Committee.

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TWFRS has 850 employees, including firefighters, support and control room staff.

In total, 56, including 34 firefighters and other ‘operational’ workers, were off sick for various reasons on May 6, the peak of COVID-19’s impact on the brigade so far – equivalent to about 6.5 per cent of all staff.

Of these, at least four had a confirmed coronavirus diagnosis, with another eight suspected of having the disease.

Rawling added some forced to self-isolate or shield had been able to continue working throughout the pandemic, depending on their role.

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Tom Woodwark, a Liberal Democrat member of the fire authority, told the panel: “Just before lockdown the chief said to us we could have a devastating attack, for want of better word, on the ability of the fire and rescue service to do its job.

“As the figures show, when the biggest concern is not about how little has been done but that attendance has been so high we have to worry about over attendance, I think that speaks volumes.

“We knew the fire service would step up to the plate and it has done and this will put us in a good place if there is the anticipated second spike to come.”

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