3 Important Safety Considerations to Keep Staff With Epileptic Seizures Safe in the Workplace
Actions like eliminating triggers can create a safer workplace for employees with epilepsy.
- By Rupert Jones
- Nov 28, 2022
It’s estimated that 3.4 million Americans are living with epilepsy
, but 70 percent of this number can manage their condition without medication. For those that do require medication, the likelihood of daily or weekly seizures is incredibly rare, especially if they can avoid common triggers.
Unfortunately, misconceptions surrounding the condition lead to discrimination. It can be difficult for people with epilepsy to find gainful employment or hold down a job once they do.
According to studies, only 30 percent of adults with epilepsy are in full-time employment while 17 percent are employed part-time. It’s clear to see that anti-discrimination laws are ineffective at stopping discrimination, but education and safe workplace practices can make a more positive impact.
What Exactly is Epilepsy?
Answering vital questions like “what is epilepsy” is the first step to understanding the disorder.
Epilepsy is a disorder characterized by recurring, unprovoked seizures. All seizures are a result of excessive electrical discharges in a group of brain cells. About 10 percent (800 million) of people worldwide will experience a single isolated seizure, but only 50 million have epileptic seizures.
Up to 70 percent of people could live seizure-free for the rest of their lives with proper treatment. In the U.S., most people with epilepsy can only have access to this treatment if they’re employed.
Do Employees Have to Disclose Their Epilepsy?
Unless there’s a chance a person's epilepsy could interfere with their regular job duties, they are under no obligation to reveal their condition. The Epilepsy Society in your country can give you an idea of what jobs a person with epilepsy can and can’t do, but the “can’t” list is very short.
Despite the fact that most people with epilepsy can perform well in nearly any job, they will likely withhold their epilepsy from employers. If a person with epilepsy reveals their condition at any point before or during employment, they could be considered “unfit” by employers and fired.
If a person chooses to voluntarily disclose their epilepsy, they should not be punished for it. Instead, employers should commit to making their workplace a safe environment for them.
How to Keep Employees With Epilepsy Safe
There are many different types of epilepsy, and all employers can make reasonable adjustments to accommodate people with this condition. Here’s what to do to keep staff with epilepsy safe.
1. Understand the Nature of Their Condition
There are four different types of epilepsy: generalized, focal, combined and unknown. Generalized epilepsy affects the left and right sides of the brain, and focal epilepsy affects only one part of the brain. Combined epilepsy is a mix of generalized and focal epilepsy but is extremely rare.
Unknown epilepsy means doctors don’t know where seizures originate, but this condition is also very rare. Focal epilepsy is the most common of the four, followed by generalized epilepsy.
Any seizure type can interrupt motor function (body movements), what’s classified as non-motor functions (i.e., staring into space) or both. A person with epilepsy will be familiar with how their condition presents. It’s okay to ask if the person’s condition requires medication, the frequency, type and duration of seizures and if they experience warning signs before having a seizure.
With that said, the nature of their condition must be kept confidential. However, it’s okay to ask if they can disclose their condition to other co-workers for the purpose of keeping them safe. If they aren’t comfortable doing this, don’t do it for them. You’ll impact their ability to trust you.
It’s essential that your employees trust you, so they can speak to you if they have a problem.
2. Identify Triggers and Work to Eliminate Them
Most epileptic seizures have a direct cause. Flickering lights are one of the most well-known triggers of epileptic seizures, which can be eliminated or reduced with flicker-free LED lights.
With that said, you’ll also come across people with other triggers, such as light, temperature, stress, tiredness and alcohol. If a person with epilepsy does experience a seizure, it’s vital to know what they need before and after and if they can leave their desk before it happens.
But first, upgrade their workstation. Include a wireless headset, padding around any hard surface, a fully-padded chair and an LED screen. Consider implementing a buddy system, reducing the need for stairs and placing their desk close to the bathroom if they want privacy.
It’s important to note that most people with epilepsy can manage their conditions themselves. They typically recover immediately after a seizure, but it can also take several minutes or hours for them to feel like themselves. Give them a suitable place to rest while they’re recovering.
Businesses should also take into consideration how they’ll be able to leave the building in case of a fire or emergency. Ask if they need assistance outside of the office or at the assembly point.
3. Do Your Best to Reduce Stress in the Workplace
Stress causes or increases the severity of several illnesses, epilepsy included. For this reason, employers should work to reduce stress throughout their company, as they’ll eliminate burnout and increase productivity. It also won’t make it look like one worker is offered special treatment.
Some of your employees will get angry and potentially ostracize employees with epilepsy if they are getting something they aren’t. While reprimanding employees for this behavior seems like a good idea, it may make things worse. Instead, offer the same benefits to all your employees.
There are two ways to reduce stress for employees with epilepsy: prior planning and support. For example, keeping a care package with pillows, blankets, medication and a spare change of clothes under the employee's desk or in a personal locker can give them peace of mind.
Employers and co-workers can support people with epilepsy by being nonjudgemental. They’ll appreciate that you saw them as a person instead of a condition, and not everyone can do that.
Finally, you can reduce stress further by setting manageable targets and workloads. Don’t allow solo work (unless requested), offer multiple breaks and give them a consistent schedule, as it could interfere with their medication. Make sure someone on the floor knows how to do first aid.