Epilepsy in the Workplace and How To Manage Employees with Epilepsy

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Following the recent success of National ‘’Purple Day’’ to raise general epilepsy awareness, it seems fitting to raise the issue of workplace safety if you are employing someone with epilepsy.

The condition varies by individual as there are four types of epilepsy. The four types are focal, generalised, a combination of focal and generalised, and unknown. Because each type of the condition has different triggers, careful consideration is needed when assessing the risks of epilepsy in the workplace health and safety. Factors such as the type of epilepsy the employee has, the frequency and type of seizures suffered and how seizures affect the person will determine the level of risk the epilepsy of the individual poses. There are many different types of triggers for epileptic seizures, and they can range from lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, missed medication, and menstruation. Flickering lights can also trigger seizures in the workplace, but only about 3% of people with epilepsy are photosensitive. The employee affected is best placed to give you further information and advise you of their circumstances and requirements.

Also, place of work is another crucial factor. For instance, an employee with epilepsy working alone is at greater risk of epilepsy than working in a busy office.

Areas to explore for an employee with epilepsy include:

  • If the employee with epilepsy knows they will have a seizure at work, possibly enabling them to get to a safe place in advance, reducing the risk of an accident or injury.
  • Their surroundings could be a safety risk if they have seizures and lose consciousness. Someone’s disabilities may leave them confused and only partly aware of what is happening around them. In particular, situations near water, at a height or using machinery could be particularly significant and pose health and safety risks.
  • The need to take medication as prescribed if this controls someone’s epilepsy means there may be no specific risks to them related to having seizures, as long as they are taking their medicine and you are facilitating this as an employer.

Safety Aids And Equipment For Dealing with Epilepsy in the Workplace

In the event of someone’s seizures causing them to fall suddenly, safety helmets could afford a level of protection if it is decided that this is a reasonably practical control measure to help deal with their health condition and do their job.

Another possibility for dealing with epilepsy in the workplace would be for an employee to have a personal alarm that they could activate in the event of a seizure. There are different versions of these alarms for different types of epileptic seizures. A fall resulting from an episode could trigger one type. The employee themselves can activate others if they feel a seizure is imminent. If it is an audible type alarm, it will need to be in such proximity to be heard by other employees to be effective. Advanced models that could alert assistance and first aiders remotely from some distance by various means are also worth investigating.

Some people carry an ID card or wear medical jewellery which says they have epilepsy and how to help during a seizure. This is useful to colleagues and an informative measure.

Reasonable Adjustments For Epilepsy and Employment

An employer must consider ‘reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010 so that people with a disability, including people with epilepsy,  are not at a disadvantage compared to those without a disability.

An employer can ask about an employee’s health if it helps to make reasonable adjustments. Suppose the questions they get asked are irrelevant to the job, or an employee’s health gets used as a reason for dismissing them. In that case, this could be considered epilepsy discrimination in the workplace.

Epilepsy and employment need not be a big issue as an employer, as not everyone with epilepsy will need adjustments. Legally you are required to make adjustments according to the person’s condition, which varies depending on the employee’s level of disability.

Helpful adjustments to consider when dealing with epilepsy at work include:

  • Making the workspace safer in case of a seizure caused by epilepsy at work.
  • Avoid lone working for people with epilepsy.
  • Replacing some duties of the job with another employee’s where deemed to mitigate risk
  • Adapting equipment or providing support to assist the employee in doing their job
  • Separate time off for medical appointments is classed as ‘’sick leave.’’

Epilepsy Workplace Risk Assessment

Support employees by involving them in any epilepsy workplace risk assessment and seeing what reasonable adjustment should be made in the working environment. You should consider their opinions as they have the experience and knowledge of how the possibility of seizures may affect their job.

A risk assessment typically for epilepsy in the workplace would include looking at:

  • Nature of the work activity.
  • Identify the risks to safety for anyone doing this activity.
  • Depending on the type of seizure the employee has, identify what it is about epilepsy that may put the employee, or other people, at risk.
  • Current mitigating actions.
  • Measures to make the activity safer.
  • Who is responsible, and when the actions should be completed.

Effective First Aid When Employing Someone With Epilepsy

First aiders should be aware of the potential for seizures in the workplace for the affected employee. This can get mentioned as a control measure in the risk assessment.

First Aid Actions when employing someone with epilepsy:

Do’s:

  • protect employees from injury by removing any hazards during the seizure
  • note the time of a work epilepsy seizure starts/duration of the seizure
  • support and cushion their head if safe to do so
  • look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery to confirm the situation and actions
  • gently place the person in the recovery position once the seizure has finished aiding breathing
  • until recovery is complete, remain with the employee

Don’ts:

  • restrain the employee
  • put anything in their mouth
  • move them unless they are in danger
  • give them anything to eat or drink until they recover fully

When to call an ambulance:

  • the seizures in the workplace are more than five minutes in duration
  • the person does not regain consciousness between one tonic-clonic seizure that is followed by another
  • They got injured as a result of the seizure
  • the employee has no known history of epileptic seizures

Epilepsy and the workplace FAQs

When recruiting new staff, do applicants need to disclose whether they have epilepsy in the workplace?

When an employer is recruiting new employees, it is very much in the applicant’s interest to disclose a medical condition such as epilepsy. Epilepsy and employment law do not require applicants to tell you, but, as an employer, you would be required to make possible workplace adjustments once employed to protect their safety and the safety of other employees. If the new employee hasn’t disclosed their epilepsy, it could put them and others at a possible health and safety risk, and you wouldn’t have been able to provide a safe working environment through no fault of your own. It would be tough for someone to prove you didn’t make adjustments for their epilepsy in the workplace if you had no prior knowledge of their condition.

Can I ask applicants health questions without being accused of epilepsy employment discrimination?

As an employer, you can only ask health questions once you have made a job offer to someone. If you make a job offer to an applicant, and they disclose that they have epilepsy and withdraw the offer, you’ll be at risk of an epilepsy employment discrimination claim. If you make people with epilepsy a job offer, and they have the condition, open a discussion with them about any specific needs they may have. Make any reasonable adjustment to help minimise the risks associated with possible seizures in the workplace, and ensure that you comply with epilepsy employment rights.

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