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The impact of diabetes on employees and their workplaces

Fairness, Inclusion & Respect Training, FIR, Wellbeing Training

Published 28th Sep 21 - by saragouveia

The Fairness, Inclusion and Respect conference held in June focussed on Wellbeing. Kate Walker from Diabetes Safety Organisation presented some compelling statistics and insight into diabetes and the impact on individuals in the workplace.

Diabetes affects 4.6 million people in the UK and poses health and safety risks many people and companies do not recognise. Someone is diagnosed with diabetes every 2 minutes, that equates to 700 people a day, a staggering 255,500 people a year.

A recent survey from the British Safety Council showed that nearly three in every five employers (59%) that responded did not know their legal responsibilities if one of their workers had diabetes, while the same proportion (58%) of employers did not implement and review risk assessments for the role(s) workers with diabetes undertake.

What makes diabetes a safety risk?

  • possibility of a hypo e.g. sudden loss of consciousness
  • lack of sensation in feet while driving vehicles or machinery
  • impaired awareness
  • impaired concentration
  • impaired balance or co-ordination

There are two main types of diabetes, type 1 which develops when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin producing cells in the pancreas, the cause of this is unknown. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes, which develops when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin the body is making is not being used properly.

Type 2 diabetes can be hard to recognise in the early stages and the symptoms can be put down to late nights and other lifestyle factors. It is vital people get tested if they have any concerns.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • increased thirst
  • blurry vision
  • slow healing
  • frequent urin ation
  • tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.

If you think you may have any of these symptoms or are concerned, contact your GP or you could use the UK risk assessment tool. Companies and organisations need to understand the condition fully and the impact it could have on their staff and business.

Implications at work can include:

  • increased time off for those not managing their condition or those undiagnosed
  • increased risk of accidents
  • not complying with the Equality Act, Health and Safety at Work Act and DVLA regulations

The DVLA states people on insulin must check glucose levels no more than two hours before driving, followed by repeat tests during breaks for every two hours of driving. This helps prevent the risk of a fatal hypo without blanket bans, as many people have their diabetes under control.

For those who know they have the condition, DVLA regulations can be met but there are 1 million people undiagnosed in the UK who may have less sensation in their feet or deteriorating vision.

There is good news, many people with type 2 diabetes, can do something to support or improve their condition by making changes to their lifestyles. We know it is not easy to make sustained lifestyle changes, so we are encouraging the one less challenge.

  1. One less sugar in your tea/coffee x 6 cups a day =1kg less a month, 12kg a year
  2. One less biscuit x 3 times a week = 5.5 packets less a year

To support staff at work, companies should be:

  • increasing awareness and understanding of the condition and educating those in high-risk roles
  • providing a non-judgmental environment where people feel they can share about their condition (there is still a stigma about type 2 diabetes being associated to weight)
  • providing an appropriate place to test and take injectable medications
  • ensuring specific diabetes safety risk assessments and safe systems of work are in place

Diabetes is a manageable condition and for many at high risk of type 2 diabetes, it is preventable with early intervention and lifestyle modifications. Diabetes currently costs 10% of the NHS budget, £14 billion a year. What is the cost to your company, both in human and financial terms? Are you doing enough to support your staff and reduce risk? If you feel you want to know more or sign up to the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter, please contact Kate Walker.