Health lectures at work reduced sick leave

The iBedrift project has shown that providing simple info about back and neck problems has beneficial effect on sick leave. 

 Researcher and project leader Torill Tveito at Uni Research Health. (Foto: Eivind Senneset)

Many measures designed to reduce absence from work due to illness are ineffective, but the iBedrift project has shown that providing simple information about back and neck problems has had a beneficial effect on sick leave.

Researchers are now extending the project to also focus on the mental health of employees.

By introducing lectures at the workplace which focus on preventing uncertainty and concerns, the iBedrift project has shown that it is possible to achieve a considerable reduction in absence from work due to back and neck complaints.

This reduction has been documented by Torill Tveito and her research colleagues at Uni Research Health in collaboration with Professor Indahl and his staff at Kysthospitalet in Stavern.

Knowledge-based lectures
The project consisted of four lectures held during working hours which provided employees with knowledge-based information about musculoskeletal disorders, focussing in particular on back problems.

"The effects are obvious. Absence from work has been reduced in both of the groups who attended the iBedrift lectures," says Torill Tveito, who is now the Project Manager.

The lectures were held by physiotherapists and nurses, etc. who had received special training in respect of the project. A management contact was also selected for each workplace, someone to whom the employees could turn if they wanted to and who could provide them with tips and advice about doing their work despite their problems.

These findings show that sick leave dropped respectively by 7% and 4% in the two test groups, while it increased by 7% in the control group which had not participated in the project.

"These might seem like small reductions, but they mean a lot to those concerned and the financial impact is considerable," states Ms. Tveito.

Focus on mental health
The same researchers are now going to investigate to see if information about mental health can produce the same positive effects on sick leave.

"We know quite a lot, but not enough. We want to know more about what can help to reduce sick leave," says Ms. Tveito.

Around 20% of absence from work due to illness is related to mental health diagnoses.

Torill Tveito now wants to investigate to see if it is possible to achieve any further reductions in sick leave by including information about this subject in iBedrift. It will focus on the most common forms of mental illness, such as anxiety and depression.

Randomised controlled studies
The new part of the project which is being initiated this autumn will involve the recruitment of around 150-200 private nurseries in four to five counties in the eastern region of Norway.

As in the first round, the researchers will make use of so-called randomised controlled studies which will enable them to monitor the effects of the information received and access to the management contact in order to see which works best.

The nursery employees will be followed up over a period of one year.

"The groups will hear three different lectures, one about mental disorders, one about musculoskeletal disorders and one reflection meeting about how specific use can be made of this knowledge at the company concerned," says Ms. Tveito.

Documented reduction
The surveys have shown that 60-80% of us will suffer from back problems at some time during our lives, and that muscuolskeletal problems constitute approx. 40% of all sick leave taken in Norway, with back complaints accounting for the main individual diagnosis.

By focusing on the fact that normal movement is better for back pain than staying at home from work and lying down, they have succeeded in preventing uncertainty and concerns about the neck and back problems suffered by the participants. This resulted in a visible reduction in sick leave.

The project was implemented in two municipalities, Horten and Kongsberg, among municipal workers spread across 153 departments. These were divided into three different groups.

The first group attended four information meetings held at their companies and the companies concerned were allocated a management contact.

Group no. 2 received the same access to a management contact, but the management contact also had the opportunity to refer employees to an ambulatory care clinic. The third group was a control group. 

Nov. 12, 2014, 9:17 a.m.

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