The physical demands of the Colchester Council’s waste collection system mean staff are having to take an average of two weeks sick leave every year, new figures have revealed.

According to papers set out ahead of the council’s end-of-year review, the authority has missed its key performance indicator (KPI) for levels of staff sickness, with staff across all of Colchester Council averaging 8.7 days of sick leave from April 2022 to March 2023.

But further analysis has shown that had front-line environmental services been left out of the dataset, the council would in fact have hit its target in reducing the levels of sick leave taken by staff.


A section of a council document suggested that the physical nature of hauling refuse sacks into bin lorries contributes significantly towards musculoskeletal or back problems amongst staff.

One paragraph read: "A significant proportion of the sickness in these services arises from the physical requirements of the waste collection system used."

With the council’s environment service staff averaging a total of 14.45 days of sick leave per year, the figure is more than double that of any other council service.

Further analysis in a council appendix read: "The absence relating to musculoskeletal, back problems, injuries or fractures is significantly higher in [the environment team] due to the more physical, manual nature of many of the roles in this service.

“[This] puts more strain on bodies and leads to more injuries, or means that where there is a musculoskeletal or back problem, the member of staff cannot perform their duties.”


Martin Goss, the council's portfolio holder for neighbourhood services and waste, said staff are put under physical strain when a wheelie bin system isn’t in place.

He said: "A truck can hold ten to 12 tonnes of refuse – that will all have been lifted manually by those staff.

"They are lifting up to ten tonnes per day and walking up to 20 miles and visiting 1,800 properties per day – it’s no wonder staff are going to suffer.

"Black sacks are quicker but they are damaging to staff."

The council is set to ditch hessian garden waste sacks later this year and replace them with garden waste wheelie bins as they look to ease the burden on staff.