Diabetes, leaving people and companies at risk.
Posted: 24th January 2020
The Diabetes Safety Organisation
I spend much of my working day visiting construction sites telling people about the consequences of unmanaged diabetes, such as erectile dysfunction, and telling managers that they could be at risk of liability if they are not correctly managing the risk associated with diabetes. Diabetes is a condition most people have heard about. It is in the media most weeks yet very few people understand the impact the condition can have on their bodies, their lives, their families and to their companies.
Diabetes is a hidden epidemic and the fastest-growing health threat facing our nation. 4.6 million people have the condition in the UK, 700 people are diagnosed a day (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 does not discriminate.
Diabetes can cause people to black out or act as if drunk when they are not correctly managing their condition. Those on high medications are required by the DVLA to test two hours before driving and every two hours whilst driving. This is not, as yet, a legal requirement on sites, but the same people may be operating heavy machinery or huge cranes. They are at risk of acting drunk or passing out with no regulations in place. Few companies have in place diabetes specific policies, risk assessments and diabetes first aid kits.
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 aging, busy workforce.
Why does it all matter so much to me, well we can save lives if we get this right and make a difference to people’s health. That is surely enough and if it’s not then we also help companies ensure they comply with their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. Workers who are diagnosed with diabetes do not have to inform their company under the equality act (unless otherwise stipulated). However, 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 that resulted in a serious or fatal accident and an employer had taken no steps to assess and reduce risk, then the employer would commit a criminal offence and face a significant fine.
The other question I am regularly asked is why is no one else pushing this and why should we spend time and money in our company? My answer, do we need to wait for people to die or a clinical paper to show there is a problem, we know there is a problem, it is time we did something. Diabetes is a condition already recognised by the DVLA to be a high risk and is regulated. Additionally, the symptoms of diabetes expose the individual who has the condition, other employees and non-employees, to risk. The employer therefore has a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people are not exposed to this risk. I believe that it's an obvious risk once it has been pointed out. Employers must therefore assess and it and take reasonably practicable steps.
Currently diabetes has not been individually recorded at accident sites, so there are no criminal cases we can show you specifically, however that does not mean it wasn’t diabetes that was the cause. We know 500 people a week die in the UK from the complications of diabetes, but it may not be what is written on the death certificate! Do we need to wait to see diabetes as the written cause of death in the construction industry before we do something? I do hope not!
Taking reasonably practicable steps around 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 after reading this blog is not reasonably practicable.
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 and roles that are required, 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 the international law firm, Gowling WLG, to increase awareness and safety. We believe it’s imperative that employers start to understand the risk that their employees and they themselves face and work together to eliminate it.
By using online training courses that educate people about the condition and its symptoms so that they manage it better will hopefully stop the accident and mean your company discharges the duty.
Don’t let a diabetes related episode contribute to a workplace accident leaving you open to a criminal offence and facing significant fines. Take steps to make your company ‘diabetes safe’. Why not sign up to the diabetes charter and commit to increase awareness to your staff. To find out more about the diabetes charter please go to diabetessafety.org.
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Kate Walker (Director)
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Telephone: 020 7399 7400