As the UK ages, diabetes is becoming more commonplace. According to Diabetes UK, the number of people with diabetes has doubled since 1996 from 1.4 million to 3.5 million. This is projected to hit 5 million by 2025.
90% of diabetes cases are Type 2, which is strongly linked to weight and diet – however, some people are also more genetically predisposed towards the condition, with people of Afro-Caribbean, African & South Asian descent 2 to 4 times more likely to develop it compared to other ethnic groups. You’re also more likely to develop the condition if there is a history of it in your family.
What is diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes results from a lack of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, leaving the body unable to regulate its glucose levels (blood sugar). This is controlled through regular life-long insulin injections.
Type 2 diabetes is much more common and is on the rise as a result of unhealthy lifestyles. The condition tends to develop in later life. Office cultures of sedentary working & unhealthy food choices contribute to this problem - 45% of office workers sit at their desks from six to nine hours each day.
Type 2 diabetes tends to develop in later life. It involves a resistance to insulin, which instructs the body to absorb sugar in the blood. When insulin becomes less effective, the level of sugar in the blood rises, causing the pancreas to release yet more insulin.
This can become progressively worse without intervention and may lead to the pancreas being unable to produce insulin altogether. High blood sugar can cause a number of health problems in the long term, and can be dangerous if it reaches extreme levels.
Diabetes can lead to a number of short and long term complications, including heart attack, vision impairment, kidney damage, nerve damage and stroke. Complications from diabetes may even lead to amputation, most of which are below the knee. Diabetic foot ulcers precede more than 80% of diabetes-related amputations, and diabetics are 20 times more likely to experience one than the general population.
How can diabetes affect employees?
Beyond the more serious possible health complications, diabetes can have a significant effect on employees day-to-day, both as a result of symptoms of the condition and of the measures they must take to manage the illness. If a diabetic’s blood-sugar gets too low, it can cause hypoglycaemia, which causes heart palpitations, dizziness and fatigue & is dangerous if untreated.
Diabetic employees may also need to stick to strict lunch & break schedules to ensure they manage their blood glucose, take insulin injections or test their blood regularly by pricking a finger. Employees may require privacy to do this and it’s also vital that they can do this hygienically.
Diabetic employees may also need to take time off work for hospital appointments or to manage their symptoms. According to one survey, 1 in 4 said they had to take more than 3 days off in the past year, mostly due to appointments but exhaustion was also a major factor. Many employees worry about doing this, and for good reason; 1 in 5 had faced disciplinary action for missing work.
What does diabetes mean for employers?
Diabetes is generally a manageable condition and it’s possible for diabetic workers to stay in work and make a great contribution. Moreover, employers must be aware of their duties to diabetic employees under the law. Under the Equality Act of 2010, it is illegal to discriminate against people because of their diabetes,
and this would likely include sanctioning them for taking time off work to manage their condition or attend appointments. It would also be illegal to exclude new job applicants with diabetes because of their condition, unless it could be proven that they would be unable to perform the job sufficiently or safely.
Diabetes may be considered a disability and in these circumstances employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to help diabetic employees stay in work whilst safely managing their condition. This could include avoiding working at heights and providing safety gloves
for working with tools, as diabetes can cause longer wound healing times and increase the possibility of complications.
In addition to these adjustments, employers should ensure that their workplace first aiders are able to recognise and treat diabetic emergencies. Measures could also be taken to raise general awareness of the condition in the workplace.
Learn more about diabetes at diabetes.org.uk
For our diabetes, asthma and seizures awareness poster, click here.
Our Safety First Aid Training 3 day first aider course includes a section on diabetes. Find out more here.