«Over the long term, we cannot afford employee absences»

An accident in the workplace is painful not only to the person involved but also to the company’s bottom line. This is not the only reason why employers are required to contribute to safety and health protection at the workplace.

A total of 75% of absences from the workplace in Switzerland are attributed to illness and accidents. These add up to almost 200 million working hours per year that are lost.1 The majority of accidents, however, take place during leisure time, more precisely when taking part in sporting activities like football or skiing.2 Reasons for absences can also be related to internal company conditions: being under- or overworked, unhealthy working conditions such as unergonomic workstations, non-compliance with working and rest hours or a poor working atmosphere.

Employees in the service sector are absent on average 1.5 weeks each year. This does not sound like much at first glance. If one takes a look at how much one day off work due to sickness costs the company, these absences can turn into a financial and organisational burden, particularly for small and medium-sized companies. 

The importance of every individual employee’s health is something that Matthias Aebi knows well.  He sits on the board of futureLAB AG, a software development company in Winterthur that is run by a total of eight people. “As we often work together as a team and depend on each another, the consequences are fairly far-reaching if someone is absent without any forewarning, as the rest of the team is slowed down or even comes to a complete stop.”

Employee absences cost the company more than one might think

Employee health is a company asset. “The better they feel and the fitter they are, the better we function as a company,” says Markus Frei, CEO of Avasis AG. “ We cannot actually afford the absence of an employee over the long-term as there is a close relationship between our employees and clients. If an employee is not there then someone else has to familiarise him or herself with the company. This is not optimal for the client and generates high costs for us.”

On average, the costs for absent employees amount to between CHF 600 and 1,000 per day. In addition to direct costs for the company such as uninsured labour costs, non-wage labour costs, and positive/negative incentive systems with insurance premiums, there are also indirect costs. These might require making changes, rescheduling, the use of temporary staff, or overtime on the part of other employees. Damage to property, production downtime or problems with orders, scheduling and clients might also result from absences. Beyond that, further costs might be generated by reintegration measures or even court proceedings. Figures drawn from the experience of insurance companies set the average overall costs of an accident for the company at around CHF 12,000. In the industries and sectors whose activities are mainly office-oriented3, the Central Office for Statistics under Federal Law for Accident Insurance (SSUV) investigated 15,0004 confirmed occupational accidents each year between 2005 and 2014. The current insurance costs amount to around CHF 74 million each year. If the above listed indirect costs for companies are added to this, the overall cost to companies increases by a factor of two or three.

Promote employee health – reduce absences

The worrying aspect of accidents in the office is that with relatively little effort the total could be significantly reduced and that certain mishaps could be avoided entirely. People continue to stand on revolving office chairs on wheels in order to reach a folder on the top shelf. The consequences of a single false move are obvious but it still happens time and again. It is therefore worth pointing out apparently banal hazards.

Awareness of work safety and health protection in everyday office life is often not particularly high and can be brought to the fore within the company using targeted measures. For example, in terms of health protection, workstations equipped with sit-stand tables are particularly popular at Avasis AG. They are gentle on the muscles in the neck and back. Health concerns such as stress-related conditions or musculoskeletal complaints are on the increase in the office. It therefore makes sense for a company to actively support and motivate employees to take up activities that are good for the body. Like, for example, futureLAB that offers its employees membership of a fitness centre.

Sit-stand table? Lumbar support? Workstation lighting?

In the chapter on «Setting up the office» in the FCOS Box, find out which furniture can be used to meet which needs and how it protects your health and that of your employees.

Health protection and work safety benefit everyone

According to the law, the responsibility for providing the basic conditions for safety and health protection at work lies with the employer. In order to prevent occupational accidents and illnesses, the employer must undertake all the measures that experience has shown to be necessary, are practicable according to the technological state of the art, and appropriate to the conditions.5 Implementation of coordinated measures makes it possible to reduce the risk of accidents and illness significantly.

‘Prevention at the office’ stands for much more than the business interests and legal obligations of a company. It also aims to provide the basis for a healthy and productive work atmosphere: “I think that having motivated employees and colleagues improves the shared work experience,” notes Aebi of futureLAB. In this way, far-reaching consequences can be the result not only of employee absences but also of their good health. Both employees and employers enjoy the benefits as well as the economy and society.


See Federal Statistical Office, Annual extent of employee absences according to selected reasons for absence, sex, nationality and  level of employment, 2002-2016.

2 Accident statistics UVG 2016: Coordinating group for accident insurance statistics UVG (KSUV)

Includes businesses in the service sector that carry out primarily office activities in NOGA 2008 categories: 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 69, 70, 73, 74, 77, 79, 82, 91, 94. Source: SSUV, UVG statistics 2005-2014, projection based on representative samples.

4 See SSUV, UVG statistics 2005-2014, projection based on representative samples.

See Art 82 paragraph. 1, Federal Accident Insurance UVG as well as Art. 6 Abs. 1 Swiss Labour Law ArG.

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In the seven chapters of the FCOS Box and a series of short video clips, you will find out how to improve health and safety at the office and what needs to be taken into consideration.

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FCOS Checkbox

With the FCOS Checkbox apps you can identify safety risks in the office or check to see if your workstation is set up ergonomically.

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FCOS Learning Modules

Easily accessible and entertaining, they will help you check and consolidate your knowledge of the basics in safety and health protection at work.

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