The health and safety of your workforce is no longer simply about avoiding injuries and environmental hazards. Chronic disease is now an emerging and important risk for the industry and prevention is proving a valuable investment for workplace health and safety professionals.

Type 2 diabetes is Australia’s fastest growing chronic disease accounting for 85-90% of all cases. Up to half of all cases remain undiagnosed. Despite the staggering presence of this disease, as many as 60% of all cases can be prevented through behavioural and lifestyle changes.

The impact on workplaces starts at productivity costs of $4.1 billion. In contrast, a reduced incidence of type 2 diabetes will lead to increased participation and productivity in the workplace and decreased safety risks. Among individuals with type 2 diabetes, good blood glucose control and living a healthy lifestyle can significantly help to decrease the prevalence of complications and the impact on their health, productivity, participation and safety at work.

Diabetes and safety in the workplace.

Specific safety issues that arise as a result of type 2 diabetes include the impact of hearing loss, vision problems and fatigue.

  1. Hearing loss is twice as likely to occur in people with diabetes and 30% more likely to occur in people with pre-diabetes. Autopsy studies of diabetics show us why. The high blood sugar levels that characterise diabetes can cause damage to the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear making hearing difficult and raising the issue of safety in the workplace. When hearing is made difficult communication difficulties occur, warning or equipment malfunction noises may not be heard and frustrations or strained relationships with colleagues may emerge.

  2. A second safety issue that results from type 2 diabetes is the increased risk of eye problems such as blurred vision, black spots or holes in vision. It is due to the high blood sugar levels (that characterise diabetes) that the condition is the leading cause of blindness among adults aged 20-74 years and why the above listed vision problems occur. High blood sugar levels cause the lens in the eye to swell, thereby altering the ability to see properly. For this swelling to be corrected, blood sugar levels must be stabilised (which can take as long as three months). Alarmingly, the presence of vision problems such as blurred vision and black spots or vision holes are not only common in previously diagnosed diabetics, but also upon a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. This represents a safety risk not only for diagnosed type 2 diabetic staff, but also for those who are undiagnosed and especially those who are not engaging in health checks to determine the cause of any vision problems they may be experiencing.

  3. A third safety issue heightened by type 2 diabetes is the prevalence and experience of fatigue. Fatigue is reported twice as often among diabetics than their non-diabetic colleagues. This can be attributed to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, the impact of high or low blood sugar levels and psychological factors such as depression or stress. A fatigued employee can experience impaired work performance including the decreased ability to concentrate and avoid distractions, recognise hazards and risks, maintain vigilance, communicate effectively and coordinate hand-eye movements. Each of these actions, or lack of, greatly increase the risk of injuries occurring in the workplace and ultimately reduces performance and productivity.

Diabetes = reduced productivity.

Help your staff manage their diabetes risk to manage your bottom line. Diabetes is associated with the presence of work limitations including absenteeism and lost productivity (due to having to stop working and arriving late or leaving early - missed work hours). This economic burden associated with type 2 diabetes is likely to increase as the disease becomes more prevalent.

Research has found that your workers with type 2 diabetes appear to experience incremental decrements in work performance that may affect their current and future health and performance. In addition to this, an AIHW report found that workers suffering from a chronic disease (ie. type 2 diabetes) had nearly double the time off than that of their colleagues who had no chronic disease. Furthermore, those with risk factors for chronic disease also reported more sick days than those without any risk factors.

Prevention prevention prevention! 
The role of a workplace health program.

Type 2 diabetes develops over a period of months and years, which highlights the importance and value of early detection of risk factors for prevention. For workers already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, prevention of common complications such as heart disease, stroke, vision problems, kidney disease and amputations will have a considerable impact on their productivity, health and safety in the workplace.

The workplace provides an effective setting for lifestyle interventions to prevent type 2 diabetes and reduce the incidence of common complications. For example, obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Therefore, workplace health programs that promote nutrition and physical activity offer huge value to your workforce and your bottom line.

Health by Design are leaders in designing and implementing effective workplace health, injury prevention, and high performance programs. With a focus on working with clients to create engaging programs which successfully help employees change their behaviour, we are well placed to provide programs which will positively impact a business’ workforce costs and performance outcomes. Contact us to learn about how Health by Design’s award winning programs may be able to help you and your team.