Kate Walker, Director at Diabetes Safety Organisation (DSO), says that the rapid increase in the number of people with diabetes means that it is very likely that some employees on site will have the condition. Employers, therefore, must understand the risks and know how to support affected employees and their colleagues.
For those of us who don’t have diabetes, we may think of the condition as an annoyance to everyday life – having to inject or take insulin, having to watch what we eat and sacrificing sugary treats. But for those who do have the condition, diabetes can be a daily tightrope: continuously balancing diet and medication levels against the risk of a hypoglycaemic (‘hypo’) episode.
A hypo is where the body’s blood sugar levels drop too low. Symptoms range in severity, from palpitations, sweating, blurred vision, loss of sensation in hands and feet, dizziness, shaking and tremors to seizures, loss of consciousness and even death. Clearly, even a mild hypo incident for a worker onsite is a danger. Hypos can cause loss of control of machinery and equipment, falls, driving accidents and other serious injuries, to the person with diabetes, to their colleagues and to the public.
That’s what makes the global diabetes epidemic such a significant health and safety risk for employers. In the UK, one in 11 people have diabetes, and one in three people are estimated to be ‘pre-diabetic’.
This is growing fast: Diabetes UK estimates that the number of people with diabetes will increase from 4.6 million currently to 5.5 million people by 2030. Almost one million people with diabetes right now do not know they have it.
Diabetes is a serious condition because of the large number of related conditions that people with diabetes are at increased risk of: heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver disease. Diabetes is the leading cause of non-accidental blindness. There are 170 amputations a week due to diabetes. 75% of men with diabetes suffer from erectile dysfunction.
To prevent or delay these conditions from developing, people with diabetes take medication, often insulin, to help reduce the body’s blood sugar levels. The more aggressively you can medicate diabetes and keep blood sugar low, the more you can delay and prevent these conditions. However, the higher the levels of medication the higher risk of a hypo. This is the daily tightrope walked by many people with diabetes.