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Illness Absence Patterns Among Employees in a Petrochemical Facility: Impact of Selected Health Risk Factors

Tsai, Shan P. PhD; Wendt, Judy K. MPH; Ahmed, Farah S. MPH; Donnelly, Robin P. MB, ChB; Strawmyer, Thomas R. MD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: August 2005 - Volume 47 - Issue 8 - p 838-846
doi: 10.1097/01.jom.0000169091.28589.8a
Original Articles

Background: Illness absence in a working population is a complex phenomenon and can be influenced by many factors, such as age, gender, and personal health risk factors. The current study used prospectively collected employee health risk and morbidity data to examine illness absence patterns for a working population and to quantify the impact of selected health risk factors on employee illness absence.

Methods: The study population consisted of 2550 regular employees working at a Texas petrochemical facility. Morbidity data were extracted from the company’s Health Surveillance System, and records of absences were derived from personnel and payroll systems. The morbidity frequency rate and average duration of absence per employee per year were calculated by age, gender, and selected health risk factors, including smoking, body mass index, cholesterol, triglycerides, hypertension, and fasting glucose.

Results. Morbidity frequency rates and average duration of absence increased with age and with the presence of health risk factors. The absence frequency rate increased with an increase in the number of risk factors present from no risk factors (11.8 per 100 employees) to four or more risk factors (32.3 per 100 employees). The number of workdays lost also increased with the number of risk factors present, with the least number of workdays lost by employees with zero risk factors (4.1 day), followed by one (6.4 days), two (8.8 days), three (9.3 days), and four or more risk factors (12.6 days).

Conclusions: The impact of employee health risk factors has been shown in this study to be associated with absence frequency and duration of absence. Reduction in employee health risk factors can be an effective means of improving employees’ health and increasing a company’s productivity.

From the Shell Oil Company, Houston, Texas.

Address correspondence to Dr Tsai, Shell Oil Company, Shell Health Services, One Shell Plaza, P.O. Box 2463, Houston, TX 77252-2463; E-mail:

Copyright © 2005 by the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine