STRESS is still costing the county’s public services thousands of lost working days and millions of pounds, the Echo can reveal.

Today is National Stress Awareness Day (NSAD) and figures show that Dorset’s councils, police and fire services have lost more than 30,000 working days to stress since 2011.

Dorset Police officers and staff have lost 12,086 working days due to stress related sickness since 2011.

Dorset Fire and Rescue Service has lost 1,917 days between 2012 and 2014.

Dorset County Council lost 12,851 days between 2011 and 2014.

And the West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council authorities lost 3,269 days since 2012.

The organisations say it is not possible to calculate exactly how much illness equates to in monetary terms because of the huge difference in pay scales between those at the lower end of the ladder and those at the top.

But if figures were calculated using the average wage in Dorset, which was £24,927 in 2012, the overall cost to public services would be more than £2million.

Those behind NSAD say stress can have a number of trigger factors, but it can be the “adverse reaction to excessive pressures or other type of demand placed on them at work.”

Research from Aviva revealed that workers complete an extra 26 million hours in the workplace each day.

Six in 10 employees across all sectors regularly work beyond their contracted hours, putting in an average of 1.5 hours overtime a day. Nearly one in four claim they work an extra 2-3 hours daily.

Seventy-nine per cent of these hours are unpaid, which means workers are providing around worth £225 million of “free” hours each day for employers.

A spokesman from Dorset Police said: “Work in any of the emergency services can at times be stressful. This is in addition to the everyday pressures experienced in normal life.

“Dorset Police recognises these potential causes of ill health and have support mechanisms in place which include, access to an occupational health unit, employee assistance programme and a welfare and counselling service.

“Additionally, the force has arrangements in place to protect and promote the health and wellbeing of staff where specific duties may have a greater potential for adverse health risks.

“These staff are offered periodic health checks which includes psychological wellbeing where appropriate.

“The past year has seen an improvement in levels of recorded absence for stress and overall we have seen a four per cent reduction in psychological absence for police officers.

“In order to address the increase in overall sickness absence levels in the Force since 2010/11, a thorough review of best practice across all employment sectors was undertaken and this has led to the introduction of a range of measures to stimulate an improvement in attendance levels.

“This has been successful and has led to a reduction in average days lost for police officers for each of the last six quarters.

“Overall days lost to sickness reduced by 13.7 per cent for police officers and by 15 per cent for police staff during 2014/15.”

A spokesman for DFRS said the fitness and wellbeing of staff is a “priority”.

They said: “Staff are supported through a number of mechanisms, including the provision of fitness and wellbeing guidance, personalised stress action plans, access to a staff counsellor and occupational health.

“We also continue to provide clear support and guidance to our managers.

“To help raise mental health awareness, more recently we have introduced a Mental Health Initiative which includes mental health ambassadors, together with the provision of resources, support and training for both managers and employees.”

Alison Crockett, human resources and organisational development service manager at Dorset County Council, said: “We take the wellbeing of our employees very seriously, particularly those who suffer stress-related illness, and are keen to reduce absence wherever possible.

“We have a variety of tools and approaches available to support managers and staff that will help to address this issue.

“These include a stress management framework which focuses on early support and intervention for those suffering from stress, whether work related or due to personal issues.

“We have an employee wellbeing adviser who staff can talk to, and also provide access to a counselling service.

“In addition, we now run a ‘five steps to wellbeing’ programme with Public Health to help staff in managing change and improving their resilience, and in January this year ran a wellbeing event for staff in conjunction with trades unions.”

West Dorset District Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council’s head of corporate services, Melanie Earnshaw said: “We are very pleased that sick figures have reduced significantly since last year. Our figures are almost the lowest in the county.

“The partnership has introduced a new absence management policy and our HR team works with managers to support those who have been on long term sickness absence in a supported return to work.

“As a responsible employer the Shared Service Partnership has appropriate support services for staff who are feeling stressed at work.”

“We will continue to work hard to make sure that staff are happy and healthy at work.”

FORMER chairman of the Dorset Police Federation, Clive Chamberlain has been discussing the changing attitudes to mental health.

Mr Chamberlain drew upon research by mental health charity, Mind, that revealed that of 3,500 blue light workers surveyed, 55 per cent have suffered from mental health problems during their career compared with 26 per cent in other professions.

They are also less likely to report issues with only 43 per cent saying they have taken time off as a result.

Mr Chamberlain said: “A freedom of information request showed that of the 33 police forces, who responded, anxiety among officers and staff has increased by 63 per cent.

“There’s an clear indication that some are buckling under the pressure of public sector cuts with fewer people expected to do more.”

The government has set aside £4 million from the LIBOR funds for a Blue Light Programme where government, mental health charities and emergency service stakeholders will collaborate to encourage police officers, ambulance staff, firefighters and search and rescue workers to come forward if they are depressed or unwell.

Mr Chamberlain said: “While additional funding is welcome, there are some hurdles to overcome.

“Often suffers are the last to realise that they have a problem, and many don’t acknowledge it at work, fearing that it will be career limiting and a negative tick on their personal record indicating that they can’t cope.

“In my experience, when officers have finally reached rock-bottom it varies drastically as to how they will be treated and in many cases that’s not sympathetically.”