Workers are taking fewer days off sick, with a record 45 per cent having no days off ill at all in 2010, according to research.

A study by the Engineering Employers Federation and Westfield Health revealed a steady fall in sickness absence over the past three years, with the average employee taking five days off in 2010 compared with 6.7 days in 2007.

The state of the economy may have played a part in the figures, but the report said the trend started before the recession.

The survey of more than 450 firms found that back pain and other muscular problems remained the main cause of short-term sickness absence last year.

Problems with stress and back pain fell, while two thirds of firms said they were achieving targets on sickness absence.

A significant number of companies were paying for private medical treatment, which the EEF said was set to become a rising trend as the UK recovers from recession.

Early results on the introduction of a “fit note” were mixed, with one in five firms saying it had helped them reduce sickness absence, but others complaining that workers were being signed off unnecessarily.

Jill Davies, chief executive of Westfield Health, said: “The workforce is an employer’s most valuable asset and the falling sickness absence rates show that the right steps are being taken to continue this positive trend, but there is still plenty to be done.”