Diabetes affects 4.9 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, which equates to 700 people a day, a staggering 255,500 people a year.
Types of diabetes
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 1 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 is the most common type of diabetes. This develops when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin the body does make is not being used properly.
Symptoms of type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can be hard to detect in the early stages as the symptoms can be put down to late nights or other lifestyle factors. It is vital people get tested if they have any concerns as it can be dangerous if left untreated. Some of the symptoms include
- increased thirst
- blurry vision
- Increased fatigue
- slow healing
- frequent urination
- tingling or numbness in the hands and feet
if left untreated, diabetes can result in serious medical problems such as heart attacks, heart failures, strokes, kidney failure and even cause comas.
Safety risks of diabetes
- possibility of a hypo
- sudden loss of consciousness
- acting as if drunk
- lack of sensation in feet while driving vehicles or machinery
- impaired awareness
- impaired concentration
- impaired balance or coordination
Companies and organisations need to understand the condition fully and the impact it could have on their staff and business.
How can diabetes impact the workplace?
- increased time off for those not managing their condition or those undiagnosed
- increased risk of accidents
- Businesses not complying with the Equality Act
- Businesses not providing appropriate places to test or take injectable medication
- Businesses not complying with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act
- Businesses not complying with DVLA regulations
The DVLA regulations state that people on insulin must check glucose levels no more than two hours before driving and tests must be repeated for every two hours of driving. This helps prevent the risk of a fatal hypo without imposing 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 and so be a risk to themselves and other road users.
How to support diabetic employees
- increase awareness and understanding of the condition
- educate those in high-risk roles
- provide a non-judgmental environment where people feel they can talk about their condition (there is still a stigma about type 2 diabetes being associated with weight)
- provide an appropriate place to test and take injectable medication
- promote glucose testing according to DVLA regulations off-road
- ensure specific diabetes safety risk assessments and safe systems of work are in place
- adopt the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter
There is, however, good news. People with type 2 diabetes can improve their personal health by making changes to their diet, increasing exercise etc. which can also help to manage the impacts of diabetes.