Scotland politics

Union says stress leave among fire service staff is up

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Union officials say absence through stress and mental health issues is on the rise

The number of fire and rescue staff recorded as being off with stress has increased five-fold in three years.

Figures indicated absence with stress has increased from 27 in the year after the single service was created, to 137 last year.

The reorganisation of the service had been "traumatic" for staff, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) said the increase reflects a change in how figures are recorded.

Statistics on the number of staff recorded as being off with stress were obtained after a freedom of information request.

FBU Scotland claimed problems with stress increased following the reorganisation of the service from eight brigades to one.

It said about a thousand posts have been lost, placing strain on those remaining.

Sickness absence

The union believes middle and upper level managers have been particularly affected.

It was commenting after the release of statistics obtained by the Scottish Conservatives.

Head of FBU Scotland Chris McGlone told BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme that - accuracy of the figures aside - the problem was on the increase.

He said: "There appears to be a significant and increasing problem in this particular area of sickness absence related to mental health and stress issues.

"It is in no particular group. It appears to be right across the whole of the organisation - from the backroom support staff to the senior officer group, control room staff and frontline operational firefighters."

Image copyright SFRS
Image caption Control room staff have had to absorb changes since re-organisation

Mr McGlone added: "The control staff for example have gone through the experience of the reduction of the eight controls into five - and that's been hugely traumatic for the staff that have gone through that, the staff that have been left.

"The group of senior officers... has been a group that has suffered significant losses within the organisation - but the workloads are still there.

"So the pressures and the stresses from the work that remains is burdened upon an ever-decreasing group of individuals.

"Firefighters themselves are continuing to see traumatic events on a daily basis."

He said: "I think what we are seeing at the moment is the thin end of a pretty thick wedge.

"I think for everybody who presents themselves at the moment with these issues and with these problems, I think there are three or four new individuals waiting at the other side of the door to present with the same problems."

'Hugely concerning'

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: "This is an extraordinary and hugely concerning increase in the number of firefighting staff who've been signed off with stress."

The Fire and Rescue Service said claims of a five-fold increase in stress-related sickness could be attributed to changes in the way absences are recorded.

A SFRS spokeswoman said: "The safety and well-being of our staff remains a key priority.

"We have effective arrangements in place including a dedicated health and wellbeing department resourced by qualified health professionals.

"The claim of a five-fold increase in the number of staff signed off with stress is not an accurate reflection and can be attributed to different recording systems of eight legacy services, replaced in 2015 by a national and fully integrated HR system."

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