Drivers and diabetes

01 October 2017

(Article by MICK HOLDER, of ASLEF’s health and safety department, as featured in the ASLEF Journal October 2017)


What should you do if you are diagnosed with diabetes? And what are the implications for your employment as a train driver?

insulinBeing diagnosed as a diabetic by your GP does not – and should not – in most cases mean automatic suspension from driving or the end of a career. Whilst that may be the outcome in more serious cases, where loss of consciousness is a real threat, or eyesight degrades beyond an acceptable standard, most people, helped by a sympathetic employer, will be able to manage the condition safely for the industry and the individual.

Diabetes is a condition where the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body can’t use it properly. If left untreated, high blood glucose levels can cause serious health complications. There are two main types.

Type 1 diabetes generally occurs early in life when no insulin is produced which causes glucose levels to rise in the blood, can cause very serious health conditions, and is treated by regular injections of insulin without which the individual can die.

Type 2 diabetes is when the body doesn’t make enough insulin, or the insulin it does make doesn’t work properly, meaning glucose again builds up. Up to 58% of type 2 cases can be prevented or delayed by a healthy lifestyle – diet and exercise, primarily. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2.

In general terms, the predicted increase in diabetes arises from people leading more sedentary lives, together with a poor diet – both hazards for train drivers.


If a member is diagnosed with diabetes he or she should report this to their manager who should complete a risk assessment (which is done on a case by case basis). If the driver has been driving without problems to that point and there is no risk of loss of consciousness and their eyesight is of an acceptable standard then there should be a discussion about how the individual is to manage the condition, what the employer can do to support them, and how it can be monitored. Diabetes is covered by the disability section of the Equalities Act which requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to assist the individual.

Members are advised to talk the matter over with their ASLEF health and safety rep and, if they feel it necessary, have their rep accompany them when discussing matters with management. Should a member feel the outcome of any discussions means they have been unfairly treated they should put the matter formally into the machinery.

Some people will, sadly, not be able to drive on diagnosis because their condition presents a real risk to the safety of the railway, and some people’s health will degenerate to a point where it becomes unsafe, but most are likely to be able to manage the condition throughout their career.

In the past being insulin dependent was a barrier to driving trains but there are drivers now who have managed the condition and kept driving.

Members diagnosed with diabetes can get free, confidential advice from the charity Diabetes UK at You can check the RSSB’s guidance on medical fitness for railway safety critical workers at Iss 2.pdf



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