Health Wise - How to support an employee with epilepsy

On the 26th of March, Purple Day encourages people across the globe to become a united force and bring epilepsy out of the shadows.

At Fusion Occupational Health, as part of our occupational health services, we work with employers to help them support their employees with epilepsy. So we feel it’s important to help spread awareness of this condition.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition that affects the brain and causes seizures. While one-off seizures might happen to anyone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have epilepsy.

Epilepsy is usually diagnosed if someone has more than one seizure and it’s likely that they could have more. Around 1% of the population has epilepsy and 87 people are diagnosed with it in the UK every day.

What causes epilepsy?

There are a number of medical conditions that can cause symptoms similar to epilepsy, which can make it difficult to diagnose.

Sometimes, doctors can find a clear cause for it, including:

  • A stroke
  • A brain infection, such as meningitis
  • Severe head injury
  • Problems during birth which starve the baby of oxygen

However, for half of all people with epilepsy, doctors don’t know what caused it. Some may have a family history, which suggests that they may have inherited it.

What should you do as an employer?

It’s important to be aware that epilepsy can vary from person to person.

Some people may have regular seizures but, with the right medication, up to 70% of people can stop having seizures entirely. So while they might have epilepsy, the chances are it will have little or no effect on their work.

If you employ someone with epilepsy, it’s important to consider their individual situation. Look at their epilepsy and the effect it might have on their work.

Don’t make assumptions. Involve your occupational health provider and talk to them about what their epilepsy is really like and how it might affect their work.

Epilepsy and risk assessments

Health and wellbeing in the workplace are vital for any business. If someone has epilepsy, an employer must carry out an individual health and safety risk assessment to ensure that they can carry out their duties safely.

You should consider:

  • What type of epilepsy they have
  • Whether they have seizures
  • What their seizures are like
  • How often they happen and how they’re affected by them
  • If they have any warning before a seizure
  • Whether they lose consciousness
  • How long they need to recover from a seizure
  • If their seizures are brought on by anything, such as tiredness or stress
  • Whether they take medication to control their seizures
  • How this might affect them

Coming around from a seizure can be a difficult experience for both the individual and those around them. It’s important to stay calm and talk them through what’s happened.

You’ll find more helpful advice and information on the Epilepsy Action website.

The impact of epilepsy on certain jobs

Epilepsy can have serious implications in relation to certain jobs.

You’ll need to consider if an individual’s role involves working with potentially dangerous equipment. Anyone working at heights or near water should be given particular attention.

Do they work alone or with other people? You’d need to think about who would be available to help if they had a seizure.

Are they responsible for other people? This will have repercussions, especially if they are responsible for children.

Making reasonable adjustments

Once the answers to these questions are known, an employer might need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to allow the person with epilepsy to start or continue in their role. This is a requirement of the Equality Act and the Disability Discrimination Act. 

Some people with epilepsy will not need any adjustments in the workplace. However, financial support to fund reasonable adjustments might be available from Access to Work.

Some examples of reasonable adjustments recommended in the past are:

  • Changing times of work or removing shift patterns
  • Making a workspace safer in case of a seizure
  • Avoiding lone working
  • Adapting or providing equipment or support to help them do their job
  • Providing time off for medical appointments on top of sick leave

If you have an employee with epilepsy and need some advice on how best to support them, get in touch with the team at Fusion.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingHealth WiseOccupational HealthSupport

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