Introduction: Sickness absence has an important impact on employers (e.g. reduced productivity, high costs) and employees (e.g. replacement, job loss). Therefore, we investigated possible reduction by exploring avoidable sickness absence.
Methods: A questionnaire was filled out by 2,954 Dutch workers (internet panel of a marketing research company, 2005). We obtained data on self reported sickness absence (6.5 months), including the main reason for each sickness absence spell (4 health and 3 non-health reasons), self-reported work-relatedness of absence and workers' opinion on whether their absence could have been shorter or prevented, and on 12 listed factors that might have contributed to sickness absence. For each of these factors we calculated the avoidable absence fraction (AAF), analogous to the epidemiological population attributable risk.
Results: A total of 1,233 workers reported sickness absence. The absence rate was 4.46%. For 11% of the absence rate health was not the main reason. Yet, when non-health was reported as the main reason for absence, health still contributed in half the cases. 35% of the absence rate was mainly work-related. 15% of the workers mentioned that their sickness absence could have been shorter or prevented. The AAFs of contributory factors were 0.129 for home related factors, 0.136 for work-related factors and 0.101 for (occupational) health care and guidance factors. In total, the AAF showed that 21.5% of the absence rate can be considered possibly avoidable.
Conclusion: According to the studied workers sickness absence rate can be reduced. In reducing the absence, one should not only consider factors from the home and work situation, but also from (occupational) health care.