Comment: Underlying conditions of protection

26/04/2020
Kate Walker

With workers’ health at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now, Kate Walker (pictured), director of the Diabetes Safety Organisation, gives advice on how to support staff with diabetes and manage its risk.

As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world, countries are doing all they can to ensure people’s health and safety. Those living with diabetes are at increased risk from the virus and are asked to take extra care. We know that diabetes is a condition that impacts over 4.6 million people in the UK, which leaves a lot of people vulnerable to this virus and also to cases of winter flu.

This impacts not only the individual but also companies as a result of the increased time off work, lower productivity and increased safety risk in the workplace where sugar levels can be harder to control.

Staggeringly, a third of people in the UK are either living with diabetes, have pre-diabetes, or are at increased risk of developing diabetes. Over time this will have significant financial consequences and put pressure on our heroic NHS. What are you doing in your workplace to promote your staff’s health, increase awareness and help diabetes safety?

On average, 700 people a day are diagnosed with diabetes (one every two minutes). It is the leading cause of blindness in the working population and 75% of men who have diabetes, suffer from erectile dysfunction at some point.

Diabetes is progressive, slowly impacting people’s health. As it cannot be seen in the early stages and the symptoms can be put down to late nights and other lifestyle factors, helping people and companies understand and manage the risk is crucial to today’s ageing, busy workforce.

When it’s not correctly managed, diabetes can cause people to blackout or act as if drunk. Those on high medications are required by the DVLA to test two hours before driving and every two hours while driving.

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

If people do not follow DVLA regulations, criminal sanctions are in place. A driver who admitted to causing the death of a woman in North Lanarkshire after suffering a diabetic fit was jailed for six years and eight months.

A delivery driver – who hid from the DVLA and his employer that he had diabetes and could blackout at any time while behind the wheel – was jailed for more than three and a half years for causing the death of a 53-year-old man.

As yet there have been no criminal cases increases, against employees, but we believe this is just a matter of time as employers have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that their employees and those affected by what the employer does are not exposed to risk to their health and safety (Health and Safety at Work Act 1974).

If someone had a diabetic episode on-site or while driving for work, which resulted in a serious or fatal incident and an employer had taken no steps to assess and reduce risk, the employer would likely have committed a criminal offence and would face a significant fine.

Taking sensible steps when it comes to diabetes safety does not need to be expensive to your company. There are simple measures that can be put in place to keep your staff safe and healthier. Doing nothing is not taking every ‘reasonably practical’ step.

With diabetes having a national prevalence of 7%, do you know the 7% of people in your company with the condition? Have you delivered diabetes awareness training to your staff?Have those with the condition been risk assessed and do you have policies and diabetes first-aid kits across your business? If not, are you doing enough?

As diabetes continues to rise and risk increases we are working with international law firm Gowling WLG to increase awareness and safety.

We believe it’s imperative employers start to understand the risk that their employees and they face and work together to eliminate it. Online training courses can hopefully better prepare you and keep your staff in work and stop incidents, allowing your company to discharge its duty.

Don’t let a diabetes-related episode contribute to a workplace incident leaving you open to a criminal charge and facing significant fines. Take steps to make your company ‘diabetes safe’ and keep your staff in work and productive.

Why not sign up to the diabetes charter and commit to increasing awareness in your staff? To find out more, please go to https://diabetessafety.org/charter/.

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