When we think about conditions which may affect our ability to work properly, diabetes is unlikely to be the first thing that springs to mind. The most common conditions which can cause health issues in the workplace and long-term absence from work are things like back pain, stress, and musculoskeletal injuries. But diabetes is becoming more and more common, and as such, is something we may need to think about when we think about workplace health.
Figures from Diabetes UK show that since 1996, the number of people with diabetes in the UK has more than doubled from 1.4 million to 3.3 million. By 2025, it is estimated that five million people will have diabetes in the UK. And new figures, released this week, show that diabetes now accounts for 10% of the total drugs bill for the NHS in England – an enormous £869 million.
There are two main types of diabetes – type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. If someone is diagnosed from type 1 diabetes, they will require insulin injections for the rest of their life – whereas type 2 diabetes sufferers may be able to control their symptoms by carefully watching their diet. This means that staff with type 2 diabetes may require fewer workplace adjustments than those with type 1 diabetes.
In fact, many people can manage their diabetes without it affecting their work. However, some employees – especially those with type 2 diabetes – may struggle with undertaking shift work as changes to the timing of medication and diet can affect how stable their condition is. It is important for employers to be aware of the risks for employees with diabetes – for example, if a diabetic person’s blood sugar falls below a certain level, they can suffer from a hypoglycaemic episode, and can feel faint, weak, and even lose consciousness.
Employers should undertake a risk assessment, with input from the employee, to ensure they are prepared for such situations. The assessment should include consideration of the following:
- How stable the individual’s condition is.
- Whether the person will have access to regular meal breaks.
- The level and regularity of activity undertaken in the course of the person’s duties as this affects circulating sugar in the blood.
- Activity undertaken by the employee that might place them at risk if they were to become dizzy or lose consciousness.
- Whether or not, in light of the above, lone working could not be safely undertaken.
Employers wishing to discuss employing a person with diabetes, or looking for guidance on what should be done regarding duties, adjustments or shift patterns related to diabetes can call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235. More advice and information can also be found on the online advice hub.