Myth-busting diabetes in the workplace

Learning the facts about diabetes safety in the workplace could save a life.

MYTH: “It’s only diabetes”

Diabetes is often perceived as a less serious or worrisome condition compared to, say, cancer or heart disease. This common attitude fails to take into account both the significant direct impact of the condition and how it can be a ‘gateway condition’ to many others, such as heart disease and strokes. 

Direct impact of diabetes: 

  • A limb amputated every 30 seconds
  • Leading cause of blindness in working age people – three times more likely to lose sight if you have diabetes
  • 75% of men experience erectile dysfunction with diabetes
  • 9th leading cause of death. One death every seven seconds as a result of diabetes

If you have diabetes, you are also: 

  • Twice as likely to have a heart attack
  • Twice as likely to have a stroke
  • Almost 10% more likely to get cancer 
  • Four times more likely to develop liver cancer 
  • People with type 2 diabetes are five times more likely to have end-stage kidney disease
  • People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to die from COVID-19
  • People with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of 57 other health conditions 

At the time of diagnosis, 75% of people with type 2 diabetes had one other chronic condition and 44% had two other conditions, making early diagnosis extremely important for long term health outcomes. 

MYTH: “If you’re having a hypo, you just need to eat some sugar”

A hypo (hypoglycaemic episode) is where blood sugar levels drop too low in the body. The symptoms of a hypo range in seriousness:

Mild-moderate hypo

  • Blurred vision 
  • Weak and shaky
  • Fatigue/sleepiness
  • Impaired awareness and confusion 
  • Impaired concentration 

Severe hypo

  • Loss of balance or coordination 
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma 
  • Death 

Hypos can cause accidents, falls and traumatic injuries to the person experiencing the hypo, and in the case of safety critical industries, their colleagues and general public. This is why its extremely important that your workforce can identify the symptoms of a hypo and can assist a colleague experiencing a severe hypo. 

During 23% of severe hypos, the person experiencing the hypo was alerted to the fact by another person and in 21% of severe hypos, were found unconscious by another person. In such instances, having a diabetes hypo kit close to hand can help ensure the person is stabilised while medical support is on the way. 

MYTH: “Only people with type 1 diabetes are at risk of hypos”

A hypo (hypoglycaemic episode) is where blood sugar levels drop too low in the body. They usually occur as a result of taking diabetes medication, typically insulin but includes other medication too. 

While almost all people with type 1 diabetes take insulin to manage the condition (400,000 people in the UK), a large number of people with type 2 diabetes also take insulin to manage the condition (600,000 in the UK – more than those with type 1 diabetes). Clinical data also indicates that people with type 2 diabetes are at a higher risk of having a hypo than people with type 1 diabetes. This can be due to people with type 1 diabetes having greater experience, often since childhood, of managing the condition and/or the different technology typically available for those with type 1 diabetes. 

MYTH: “We don’t have anyone with diabetes in our workforce”

In a workforce of 1,000 employees, 82 will have diabetes. Between 17-28 employees will be using insulin to manage the condition – only 5 of these will be people with type 1 diabetes, the majority will be people with type 2 diabetes. 

Of those with diabetes, 19 will be undiagnosed. A further 330 people will be at increased risk of diabetes. 

Diabetes is a public health epidemic. By 2030, 10% of the workforce will have diabetes and by 2045 it will be almost 13%. 

MYTH: “If our employees have diabetes, that’s their issue to manage” 

There are a large number of legal, compliance and business reasons to support your workforce to prevent and manage diabetes, including: 

  • Under health and safety law, employers have a duty to protect against injury and ill-health
  • Diabetes is a known and foreseeable risk, creating an obligation for employers to take steps to mitigate that risk
  • Workplaces contribute to an individual’s risk of diabetes or their ability to manage the condition. We spend a significant time at work. Shift patterns, stress, diet and exercise are all factors which directly affect an individual’s risk of diabetes 
  • Employers must make sure employees who drive as part of their job duties are compliant with DVLA requirements for driving with diabetes (e.g. testing blood sugar before and during driving, number and frequency of breaks)
  • Under equality law, employers may have to put in place reasonable adjustments to help ensure people living with diabetes can manage their condition at work and remove or reduce disadvantage experienced as a result of having diabetes 
  • If not managed well, diabetes can result in early retirement and long-term sick leave at great cost to business as they lose valuable employees and skills
  • Day to day hypo and hyper incidences can significantly reduce productivity. Mild and moderate hypos alone cost around £1000 per month for every 1000 employees in your workforce

Diabetes is a progressive condition that gets harder to manage over time. It is important that employers create a culture where people living with diabetes feel confident in disclosing their condition in order to get the support they need at work. This is particularly important giving that the number of people living with diabetes is rapidly increasing and considered a national epidemic in the UK.  

Leave a Replay