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 to be 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

The role of the workplace

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. 

Type 2 diabetes develops gradually and you may not realise that you have high blood sugar levels for quite some time – or the damage that it is causing. It can lead to blindness, higher risk of heart attack, fatigue and hearing problems.

Controlling blood sugar levels can reduce your risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke or death as a result of heart disease by 57%.

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.

Contact us today to discuss the huge range of options available for your workplace to help beat diabetes and its huge implications for safety.