Injuries and Illness

Diabetes: Are Your Workers at Risk?

This Friday, our Safety Training Tips editor focuses on a killer—diabetes—and what you can tell your workers about what it is and how it can be treated, if they catch it early!

What is diabetes? People with diabetes have a problem with their metabolism. Their bodies can’t process a kind of sugar in their blood called “glucose.” Glucose is made when food is digested. It’s glucose that fuels your body and gives you energy. To be properly processed, glucose needs a hormone called “insulin.” In diabetics, not enough insulin is produced to process all the sugar. As a result, the body loses its main source of fuel even though the blood contains lots of glucose.

Who gets it? About 90 percent to 95 percent of people who get diabetes are overweight, are physically inactive, have a family history of diabetes, or are past middle age. Some ethnic groups such as African-Americans also have a higher incidence of diabetes. A small percentage of children and teens also develop diabetes, and some women develop diabetes temporarily late in pregnancy.

What’s the difference between Type 1 diabetes and Type 2? Type 1 diabetes mainly affects children and teens, but anyone can get it. In Type 1, the body’s immune system, which protects us against disease, attacks and destroys cells that produce insulin. No one really knows why this happens, but 5 percent to 10 percent of Americans with the disease suffer from Type 1. Type 2 diabetes is much more common. This form of the disease usually develops gradually and is diagnosed later in life. About 80 percent of people who develop Type 2 diabetes are overweight.

What are the symptoms? Symptoms may include fatigue, frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, weight loss, blurred vision, and slow healing of wounds or sores. Some people have no symptoms.

What are the complications of diabetes? People with diabetes are more likely to have:

  • Heart attacks and strokes

  • High blood pressure

  • Blindness

  • Kidney disease

  • Amputations

  • Nervous system disease

How do you know if you have it? A simple blood test can detect diabetes. Tell your employees that if they experience any symptoms, they should see their doctor. Employees in high-risk groups should have regular blood tests.

What can be done? There’s a lot that can be done once a diagnosis of diabetes is made. Many people can control the disease without medications through diet and exercise alone. In addition, there are medications that can help. If an employee suspects diabetes, he or she should see a healthcare professional right away.

Why It Matters…

  • Over 20 million Americans (7 percent of the population) have diabetes. Of that number, more than one-quarter is undiagnosed.

  • More than 10 percent of men over age 20 and nearly 9 percent of women over 20 have diabetes.

  • About 20 percent of people over the age of 60 have diabetes.

  • African-Americans are almost twice as likely to have diabetes than whites, and Hispanics are a little more likely to have the disease than non-Hispanics.

  • Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the United States as listed on death certificates, but it may actually be a factor in many more deaths not directly attributed to the disease.