Alarming rise in firefighters suffering from stress

Firefighters carry out an exercise using the new Cobra cold cutting technology at an empty property in Houghton
Firefighters carry out an exercise using the new Cobra cold cutting technology at an empty property in Houghton

MORE firefighters in Wigan are being signed off work for stress each year, with more than 3,000 days lost over the last 12 months.

From January to October 2015, 80 firefighters in the borough were off for more than a week with mental health issues, covering anxiety, depression and stress, equating to 3,796.5 days lost.

We are extremely concerned with the number of our firefighters with stress and there have been five suicides over the last three years

Simon Yaffa

The figures suggest last year’s total will outstrip the 2014 figure, which stood at 88. In 2013 the figure was 61.

Overall, 378 firefighters have been signed off work for illness from January to October, with 9,110.5 days lost.

The figures however, have fallen, from 540 in 2012, to 448 in 2014.

The most common reason for taking time off was musculo skeletal problems, with 136 firefighters and 1,992 days of absence.

Five members of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) were off long-term after being diagnosed with cancer, with 447 days lost.

And today the chairman of the firefighters’ union said the Wigan Evening Post’s findings demonstrates the pressures his members were under.

Simon Yaffa, head of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said that ensuring that increasing numbers of firefighters suffering with mental health issues was of “utmost concern” and was a top priority locally, as well as nationally.

It was also noted that cuts in real time pay, pensions and fewer cover was adding to work stress.

Yaffa added: “We are extremely concerned with the number of our firefighters with stress and there have been five suicides over the last three years.

“We are in close contact with the new chief fire officer in Greater Manchester and this is being highlighted at a national level. We are working with Mind to provide extra support.”

A spokesman for GMFRS said the it has a range of health and well-being support available for staff, including counselling, physiotherapy, on-site gyms, a 24-hour free helpline and a DIY health checker.

County Fire Officer and Chief Executive, Peter O’Reilly, said: “We know our staff are going to deal with challenging situations as it is the nature of our work. As a result, we have extensive health and well-being support available as we take the welfare of our staff very seriously.

“We have a variety of services available, including options for those who want to seek support independently from the service, and are pleased to say that we have one of the most successful attendance records in the public services sector of Greater Manchester.

“Our absence levels compare favourably to other public sector organisations, where the average time lost to sickness has continued to increase this year, but we are working with our staff to see how we can improve the support we make available.”