Stress forces Greater Manchester firefighters to take almost 6,000 days off

Stress-related problems have forced firefighters and other rescue staff across Greater Manchester to take almost 6,000 days off in the last three years.

The number of days the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) have lost to stress is 5,981 over the last three years, with the total sky-rocketing from 2013 onwards.

In the year 2013/14, riders, non-riders and support staff missed 2,035 days because of stress problems, compared to 1,418 in 2012/13 and 1,339 in 2011/12.

That figure is on course to rise again this year, with 1,189 shifts already lost in the first half of 2014/15 – data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act shows.

Gary Keary, secretary of the Greater Manchester Fire Brigades Union, said: “It’s a problem that we have definitely picked up on, and are very concerned about.

“I’m not surprised given the changes that the fire service in Greater Manchester has seen, with a big drop in the number of firefighters and engines covering the area.”

Mr Keary cited the pressures of the recession and the industrial action being taken by firefighters across the country over pensions as major factors in the rise.

He also blamed an ‘historic mistrust’ between firefighters and authorities in the Manchester area, which would prevent people seeking help for stress-related issues.

“There may be people that need help but think twice about acting on it,” he added.

“A lot of firefighters feel very undervalued, especially when you have government ministers saying we should work until 60.

“They clearly don’t understand what is required of firefighters both physically and mentally.”

Firefighters have already taken 515 days off due to stress in the year 2014/15, with the previous high for an entire year being just 783.

However the biggest increases have come from non-uniformed support staff, whose total of 612 days so far this year has already surpassed those from 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Alyson Hall, GMFRS Director of People and Organisation Development, said: “While overall sickness at GMFRS has declined, we have seen an increase in the number of mental health and stress-related absences across the organisation and this is a concern to us.

“However, this increase reflects the overall pattern occurring elsewhere in the UK. 

“We have carried out some research looking at the underlying causes and found that, actually, the reasons people are suffering from stress is mostly related to increased pressures in their personal lives brought on by the pressures of modern day living.”

She did, however, recognise the additional strains placed on Greater Manchester staff recently.

“Of course, GMFRS does deal with some challenging incidents which can be difficult for our staff to attend. When this happens we have a robust and thorough welfare programme in place to support them,” she added. 

“This was seen in the wake of the death of our colleague Firefighter Stephen Hunt and the feedback from people affected was that it was really effective. 

“We have also provided mental health awareness training to our managers and staff and we continue to offer a whole range of welfare support services that are available to all staff and their immediate family members 24/7.”

Picture courtesy of GMFRS, with thanks.

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