Safety at work
Your primary workplace safety concerns will depend on the industry you work in and your occupation. If you work in an office, for example, your main concern may be the comfort of your work station. If you work outdoors, physical hazards such as heat, cold, and sun exposure may top your list.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act) requires employers to provide their employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers. In addition, employers have a legal obligation to inform employees of OSHA safety and health standards that apply to their workplace. Be sure you are aware of the safety policies and procedures of your workplace, and inform your employer about any unsafe conditions that you observe.
If you have any diabetes complications, you may have some special needs regarding workplace safety. For example, if you have certain types of retinopathy (an eye condition), a job that includes heavy lifting may not be advisable. If you have neuropathy that causes lack of sensation in your feet, wearing steel-toed shoes or boots may put too much pressure on your feet and cause an injury. Speak with your diabetes care providers (including any specialists you see) about your work environment and the work you do to assure that your job duties are not endangering your health or your diabetes control.
Educating your employer
While it is not required that you tell your supervisor or manager that you have diabetes, it may be wise to do so and to take the time to educate that person about how you care for your diabetes. First, assure your supervisor that you will get your job done. Then let him know what diabetes tasks you are likely to perform during the workday, such as checking your blood glucose level or taking medicines. If having your meals at set times is important to your diabetes management, let him know that, too. And if you are taking medicines that can cause hypoglycemia, explain what that means and what you need to do if your blood glucose gets too low. Explain that low blood glucose can occur unexpectedly and that if it does, you will need to briefly interrupt what you’re doing to treat it, even if that means leaving a meeting for a few minutes.
The Americans with Disabilities Act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with diabetes to permit them to perform essential job functions. The specific accommodations to be made depend on the needs of the individual. Some examples of accommodations an employee with diabetes might need include the following:
• A private area to check blood glucose or take injected medicines
• A place to rest while low blood glucose to returns to normal
• Regular breaks to check blood glucose level, eat or drink, or take medicines
Employers must always handle any information about an employee’s medical condition or disability in a confidential manner. You can learn more about your rights as an employee at the Web site of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, www.eeoc.gov.
If you truly feel discriminated against in the job setting, the American Diabetes Association may be able to help. See “Resources for Workers” for contact information.
Many companies are doing more with less these days, or expecting fewer employees to do the work that more people used to do. In addition, many people have lost their jobs, and among those who have found new jobs, some are having to learn new skills or to do work that does not utilize the professionals skills they have developed.