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Diabetes is one of the fastest growing health challenges of the 21st century, with the number of adults living with diabetes having more than tripled over the past 20 years. In the UK, 4.6 million people have diabetes while a further one million people do not know they have the condition. With the incidence of diabetes in the workplace increasing, so too is the potential impact on health, safety and wellbeing at work - diabetes can have an impact on productivity, affect eyesight, foot sensation, concentration and time off work. It is therefore important for employers to know how they can help employees manage their diabetes in the workplace to manage the unique risks.

To coincide with Diabetes Awareness Week taking place between 14-18 June, British Safety Council carried out a survey asking employers about how they manage diabetes in the workplace. We asked employers two key questions:

  1. Whether they are aware of their legal responsibilities if one of their workers has diabetes; and
  2. Whether they implement and review risk assessments for the role(s) workers with diabetes undertake.

The results of the survey showed that nearly three in every five employers (59%) that responded did not know their legal responsibilities if one of their workers has diabetes, while the same proportion (58%) of employers did not implement and review risk assessments for the role(s) workers with diabetes undertake.

British Safety Council is concerned by these findings, which shows a general lack of awareness amongst employers of how to manage diabetes in the workplace, as well as the risks that need to be assessed and managed. While there is currently no specific legislation covering diabetes in the workplace, there are legal duties on employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of all employees. Employers also have a legal duty to non-employees that are affected by what the employer does, such that they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.

British Safety Council recently launched its Being Well Together programme and teamed up with the Diabetes Safety Organisation, to provide employers with training and knowledge around diabetes.

Mike Robinson, Chief Executive of the British Safety Council, said: “The results of our survey show that a significant number of employers are unaware of their responsibility to manage diabetes in the workplace. Failure to do so can have serious consequences and leave employers liable to criminal prosecution should an accident occur.”

Kate Walker, Chief Executive of The Diabetes Safety Organisation commented: “Assessing the risks for the roles undertaken by workers with diabetes is paramount. For example, if an employee with diabetes is working at height, risks such as impaired concentration and impaired balance or coordination due to the impact of diabetes must be evaluated – the same applies to workers that have undiagnosed diabetes. Six in ten people have no symptoms when they are diagnosed with diabetes. A risk-based approach focusing on prevention is key.”

Mr Robinson continued: “Many workers with type 2 diabetes do not tell their employer they have the condition through fear of being stigmatised. We strongly encourage employers to educate their managers about diabetes so that they are aware of the needs of employees with diabetes and how best to accommodate them. Simple steps to support employees with diabetes include regular breaks to allow diabetic workers to monitor their blood sugars and provision of a safe, discrete and clean environment to administer their dose of insulin in.”