Sickness absence is continuing to fall among UK employees, with the average worker taking just five days off through illness last year, compared with 6.7 days in 2007, according to a new study.

An all-time high of 45% of employees took no days off through sickness last year, the study by the Engineering Employers Federation (EEF) and Westfield Health found.

While recession effects may have had an impact on the figures, the trend began before the credit crunch, according to the report.

The study showed that the top cause of short-term sickness absence in 2010 continued to be back pain and other muscular problems.

There was a drop in stress and back pain problems, while two thirds of companies said they were achieving targets on sickness absence.

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

The survey showed that the early results on how the introduction of a “fit note” impacted sickness absence were mixed.

A fifth of the 450 companies questioned said it helped them reduce sickness absence, but others complained that employees were being signed off unnecessarily.