Due to the potential stigma often attached to the associations of liver disease, the condition can oftentimes remain unrecognised and therefore unsupported in the workplace, which is a cause for concern considering liver disease is thought to be the third most common cause of premature death in the UK.
It is important to make sure that those suffering from the disease are afforded the same respect and dignity as those with other conditions, and that if alcohol misuse is a factor in their diagnosis that the workplace focus isn’t based around their performance and attendance, but more so the risks of the condition.
Whilst alcohol misuse is one of the leading causes of liver disease, it is by no means the only cause. It can also be attributed to obesity and viral hepatitis. The key signs to look out for in employees who might be suffering from the condition are fatigue, usually the inability to complete a full day’s work, and jaundice – it can lead to very itchy skin as the liver struggles to rid itself of toxins that subsequently build up.
As an employer it may help to discuss with an employee suffering from liver disease about reducing hours, particularly if heavy manual labour is involved. It’s also crucial to have a good alcohol policy in place that promotes awareness and encourages employees to help understand how best to support colleagues who have problems with alcohol.
If an employee’s condition is particularly serious, they may require a liver transplant, which can mean up to 8-12 weeks of recovery time and the long-term use of medication. If this is the case it is very important to have a suitable return-to-work programme in place, coordinated with an OH specialist.
The British Liver Trust, as part of their Love Your Liver campaign, is currently calling for the Government to support universal screening for the disease, arguing it could potentially save the NHS up to £600 million a year. Simultaneously they have developed an online screening tool in order to help raise awareness.