Diabetes And How It Can Affect A Person At Work

10th April 2019

What Is Diabetes?

In the UK, more people than ever are living with diabetes, in the last year over 3.8 million people in the UK have been diagnosed with diabetes. But what actually is diabetes? Diabetes is a lifelong condition that causes a person’s blood sugar level to become too high, this is because the body cannot break down glucose into energy. There are two different types of diabetes, type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body’s immune system destroys the cells that produce insulin. Whereas type 2 is where either the body’s cells don’t react to insulin, or the body fails to produce enough insulin. Type 2 diabetes is far more common than type 1, affecting around 90% of adults in the UK.

Is Diabetes Classed As A Disability?

The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to carry everyday tasks. So whilst a person with diabetes may not consider themselves to have a disability, they would, in fact, be covered by this definition. When you think about it, it makes sense. Diabetes is a lifelong condition, and whilst it can be managed with medication, it can have a detrimental effect on an individual’s daily life, including their time at work.


Research carried out by Diabetes UK found that 1 in 6 people suffering from diabetes at work feel that they’ve been discriminated against by their employer because of their condition. A further one third of respondents said that living with diabetes had caused them difficulty at work, while 7% simply hadn’t told their employer that they have the condition. These stats show that there is a real issue around awareness of diabetes within the workplace, both from an employee’s rights and the workplace adjustments that sometimes need to be made to accommodate diabetes.

It is important to have a conversation with employees when they first start about any conditions that they have. In the case of diabetes, it is the employee’s responsibility to tell their employer so that they are aware of any adjustments that need to be made to accommodate this. There is a range of adjustments that can be made, from working hours to modified equipment and regular breaks.

It is not just important employers know who is suffering from diabetes, but also other team members. Where applicable, a colleague may need to be able to recognise the symptoms of a hypo (hypoglycemic episode) and be able to treat it. A hypoglycemic episode, also known as low blood sugar may result in a person having trouble speaking, feeling confused, having a loss of consciousness or even having a seizure.

Managing Diabetes In The Workplace

So, as an employer, how do you help to manage an individual’s diabetes in the workplace?

Whilst many people can easily manage their diabetes at work without the need for intervention, this isn’t the case for everybody. It is important to undertake a risk assessment, with help from the employee, to ensure they are prepared for any sticky situation. As part of this assessment, you should look at some of the following:

  • How stable they are, and what treatment the individual is currently receiving
  • Will the individual have regular meal breaks
  • How will the job role duties affect sugar in the blood
  • Are they safe to carry out all work activity safely
  • Are they able to safely work alone?

If you require some assistance with undertaking a risk assessment, get in contact with us, and we’ll help you to not only identify risks but also control them.

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