Chief Executive & Founder
The Diabetes Safety Organisation
Diabetes affects 4.6 million people in the UK and poses health and safety risks that many individuals and companies do not recognise. As an organisation we have set up the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter to ensure the safety of staff, the correct personal testing under DVLA regulations are adhered to and also to help companies comply with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act.
I am delighted to announce that the Construction Industry Council (CIC) have agreed to endorse the Charter along with, Diabetes UK, IOSH, Light House Club, and Gowling WLG.
Most people have heard about diabetes as it appears regularly in the press these days but far fewer people have taken the time to truly understand the condition and know the impact it can have on individuals, colleagues and companies.
What makes diabetes a safety risk?
- possibility of a hypoglycaemic episode
- sudden loss of consciousness
- acting as if drunk
- lack of sensation in feet while driving 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 and develops when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin the body is making is not being used properly.
Individual health risk from diabetes
- blindness – diabetes is the leading cause in the working population
- erectile dysfunction - 75% of men suffer from this at some point
- amputation - 170 a week in the UK
- increases risk of a heart attack
- increased risk of a stroke
- premature death - 500 people die a week
- diabetic kidney disease
I am often asked, ‘why diabetes and not another specific health condition?’ The short answer is that diabetes poses not only a health and safety risk to those with the condition, but also a risk to others at work from those who are undiagnosed or not managing the symptoms. The evidence shows that there are 700 new cases of type 2 diabetes a day, that’s 1 person diagnosed every 2 minutes. There are 1 million people living with type 2 diabetes who do not know they have the condition with a further 12.6 million at high risk of developing diabetes. Surely, our aim should be to make a significant difference to people’s lives and staff safety using clear awareness campaigns, in a non-judgemental environment where everyone is able to talk openly.
As an organisation, we work with the international law firm Gowling WLG on all legal aspects of our work and they recognise the serious risk diabetes can pose to a company. "The law places a duty on all employers to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that their employees and anyone affected by what the business does, are not exposed to a risk to their health safety or wellbeing. Diabetes is a condition which gives rise to risk and therefore needs to be carefully assessed and controlled. Failure to do so could have tragic consequences and criminal implications." Andrew Litchfield, Partner, Gowling WLG.
Implications at work
- increased time off work for those not managing their condition or those undiagnosed
- increased risk of accidents
- not being compliant with the Equality Act
- not providing appropriate places to test or take injectable medications
- not complying with the Health and Safety at Work etc Act
In the UK, the DVLA have strict guidelines in place for people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2 who need to take insulin. 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 hypoglycaemic attack without imposing blanket bans as many people have their diabetes under control.
This simple measure ensures greater safety across the UK’s road network. However, these measures do not apply off road, for example, on sites, in warehouses, on production lines and on private land. I would argue that some of the largest and most dangerous machines are used in these environments and yet no safety measures for those with diabetes are applied. In our charter we encourage the adoption of this simple two hourly testing for all workers with diabetes on all types of machinery irrespective of location.
Despite the stark facts, the good news is there is much that can be done to support people living with diabetes and ensure workplaces are safer.
What can be done:
- increase awareness and understanding of the condition
- educate those in high risk roles
- provide a non-judgmental environment where people feel they can talk freely about their condition (there is still a stigma about type 2 diabetes being associated with being over weight)
- provide an appropriate place to test and take injectable medications
- promote glucose testing according to DVLA regs for off road workers
- ensure specific up to date diabetes safety risk assessments and safe systems for work are in place
- encourage the one less challenge to promote healthier lifestyles
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? I encourage you to sign up to the Tackling Diabetes Safety Charter and help make a difference to those living with diabetes and ultimately save lives.
Contributor: Kate Walker is CEO and founder of the Diabetes Safety Organisation. She is passionate about helping people with diabetes and provides support for companies to increase safety in the workplace.