Recent statistics indicate that 3.5 million people in the UK have diabetes, while an estimated half a million additional people have the condition but are unaware that they have it. The number of people with diabetes in the UK is expected to rise to more than 5 million by 2025. Currently, the condition costs the NHS around 10 billion a year.
Diabetes is a chronic condition whereby the body is not able to regulate its glucose levels due to abnormal metabolism. There are two main types of diabetes.
Type 1 is the less common of the two. In this condition, the body is not able to make insulin on its own to manage blood glucose levels. It is usually identified in children and young adults.
Type 2 is much more common and mainly affects adults. In this condition, the body doesn't produce enough insulin to manage blood glucose levels and/or the cells in the body cant use it correctly. Although not fully understood, certain factors increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. These include; age, weight, body fat distribution, lack of physical activity, family history and ethnicity.
It's a very common lifelong health condition that doesn't hinder peoples ability to get a job or to keep one. People with diabetes should be assessed on their individual ability to do a job and not be discriminated against simply because they have the condition. Nevertheless, some key areas of employment have restrictions on people with insulin-dependent diabetes. These include:
- driving long goods vehicles or those carrying passengers, i.e. jobs where people need to have a Group 2 licence
- the armed forces
- jobs in the aviation industry, such as airline pilots and, in some cases, cabin crew and air traffic control personnel
- working offshore, for example on oil rigs and ships.
There can also be restrictions in other jobs, for example the emergency services, the railway industry and public carriage services. The level of restriction varies across the UK and mainly lies with the individual local councils.
The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires employers to secure the health, safety and welfare of employees at work. This includes providing a safe place of work, safe systems of work, information and training.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (as amended) require suitable and sufficient assessments of health and safety risks at work to be carried out.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require employers to provide adequate welfare for their employees.
The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments and provide legal defence against discrimination on the grounds of disability, including disability relating to diabetes.
The law places duties on the employer to assess risks posed to their workers and, where necessary, to take action to safeguard health and safety, including health surveillance, if appropriate. This could be achieved by carrying out a comprehensive risk assessment.
Education for employees
Leaflets and information
- Diabetes: What is it? - an introductory factsheet from the National Diabetic Educational Program (USA)
- Employment and diabetes - your rights at work - a comprehensive guide from Diabetes UK
- Some common myths exposed - an information sheet from the National Diabetic Education Program (USA)
- Self-care guide for people with diabetes - from the Health Service Executive (Republic of Ireland)
- Small changes, big difference - advice for employees on working with a long-term medical condition from NHS Choices
- Health and safety for disabled workers and people who work with them from the HSE
Diabetes - the facts from NHS Choices
Diabetes UK webpage, explaining the causes of, and risk factors associated with, diabetes
Managing your diabetes: basics and beyond produced by Diabetes Action Research and Education Foundation
Diabetes risk score assessment tool from Diabetes UK
Diabetes UK: in your area information on Diabetes UK activities in your local area
Stories about people with diabetes from different walks of life, published by Diabetes UK
Diabetes self assessment tool from the NHS
Diabetes, foot care and foot ulcers from Patient UK
Diabetes and driving - information sheet from Suffolk Hospitals Diabetes Service
Education for employers
Leaflets and information
- Diabetes in the workplace - an employers guide from the Ambulance Service Association and NHS Employers
- HSE's Good health is good business: employers guide
- Supervisors guide to diabetes - a factsheet from the National Diabetes Education Program (USA)
- Diabetes UK provides a range of guidance on employment and diabetes
- Small changes, big difference - advice for line managers on supporting employees with long-term medical conditions from NHS Choices
- Change4Life employer's guide from the NHS
- How much is diabetes costing your company? an assessment tool from DiabetesatWork.Org
- Managing sickness absence and return to work from the HSE
- Statement of fitness for work - fit note from Department for Work and Pension
- Managing attendance and employee turnover - booklet from ACAS
- Equality Act guidance downloads from the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Getting more help
The organisations listed below offer help and advice;
- Diabetes UK Advocacy Service provides advice and supports people to take action by providing information on individuals rights in the workplace
- Diabetes UK funds research and provides guidance and support for people with diabetes
- Diabetes Monitor is a resource that helps patients educate themselves about their role as active participants in care of their condition
- National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence provides patients, health professionals and the general public with guidance on current best practice
- NHS Choices provides confidential healthcare advice and information, including on diabetes.
- European Association for the Study of Diabetes supports research into diabetes and promotes knowledge and awareness
- Health for Work Adviceline helps small businesses to address the issues relating to employees ill health
- Nutritionist Resource a support network to find a professional nutritionist in your local area
- Health and Safety Executive provides access to workplace health and safety information, guidance and expert advice