Sickness absence has fallen again, with six million fewer days lost last year compared to 2010, official figures have shown.
About 131 million working days were lost in 2011 at an average of four-and-a-half days per worker, said the Office for National Statistics. The figures compared with 178 million lost days in 1993, when records began, at an average of more than seven days per employee.
The number of working days lost through sickness remained constant through the 1990s until 2003 and has fallen since. The percentage of total hours lost through sickness has now fallen from 2.8% in 1993 to 1.8% last year.
The most common reasons given for sickness in 2011 were minor illnesses such as coughs and colds while the greatest number of working days lost was due to back, neck and upper limb problems.
Women have higher sickness absence rates than men while the self-employed took less time off than other workers.
Workers in London had the lowest sickness absence record, losing 1.3% of total hours, compared with 2.5% in Wales and the North East. Workers in the capital tend to be younger and more likely to be self-employed or work in the private sector, which are all associated with below-average sickness absence rates.
TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said the figures showed that workers are taking less time off sick than ever, adding: "The biggest problem workplaces face is not bogus absenteeism but 'presenteeism' where workers come in when they are too ill.
"Presenteeism can multiply problems by making someone ill for longer and spreading germs around the workplace. Today's figures also show that the biggest causes of long-term sickness absence are musculoskeletal disorders and stress. Both of these are often as a result of a person's work.
"Employers need to look at their working practices and see how they can be changed to prevent ill-health, rather than try to blame workers for falling sick, which serves no good to anyone."