Two guides have been developed to help support employees living with two under-recognised health conditions, scleroderma and Raynaud’s, including highlighting the value of accessing occupational health expertise.
The guides have been created by the charity Scleroderma and Raynaud’s UK (SRUK) and tackle how employers can support employees living with both scleroderma and Raynaud’s.
Both conditions can cause pain, affect movement and fine motor skills, and lead to other physical and mental health challenges. The charity has argued few people recognise the signs or understand the impact they can have. This lack of knowledge means employers may not take Raynaud’s or scleroderma as seriously as they should and so employees can struggle to provide adequate workplace support.
Scleroderma is a rare auto-immune condition, thought to affect around 19,000 people in the UK. It occurs when the body produces too much collagen, making skin stiff, tight, thick or scarred. It may also affect blood vessels, joints, muscles and internal organs, such as the heart and lungs.
Raynaud’s, which is probably the better known of the two, is estimated to affect around one in six people in the UK. It is where small blood vessels in the extremities, such as the hands, feet, fingers or toes become over-sensitive to even the slightest changes in temperature, cold conditions and sometimes emotional stress.
It can also be caused by hand-arm vibration or vibration-induced white finger, for example from the misuse or over-use of vibrating power tools. It sometimes causes noticeable colour change to the affected areas, with the skin turning white, then blue and finally to red as the circulation returns. Most people with scleroderma also live with Raynaud’s, the charity has said.
Both guides are downloadable. Scleroderma: a guide for employers outlines what the condition is and how it may affect physical and mental health. It also outlines an employer’s legal obligations and reasonable adjustments they can make.
Access to an occupational health professional, the guide emphasises, can help the employer understand what they need to do to support the person in relation to employment and health and safety laws.
An OH professional can also identify reasonable adjustments, create a return-to-work plan, and carry out a risk assessment, it highlights.
Key adjustments can include giving employee time off for regular medical appointments, adjusting the employee’s job description to remove particularly difficult tasks, building in flexibility to the work day and so on.
The second guide, Raynaud’s: a guide for employers, is similar, including highlighting the role and input of OH, especially around reasonable adjustments.
For Raynaud’s, the guide emphasises that there can be a mental health or anxiety element around returning to work, especially if the employee has had a long period off sick.
As well as a referral to OH to manage the return-to-work process, access to an employee assistance programme can be helpful to “help boost your employee’s wellbeing and improve performance,” the guide argues.
Sue Farrington, SRUK chief executive, said: “Raynaud’s and scleroderma can develop at any age and there is currently no cure for either condition, but a diagnosis doesn’t mean that a person immediately loses their ability to do their job. For so many of us, work is a major part of our lives and with the right support, most people with Raynaud’s and scleroderma can remain a valuable part of their workplace indefinitely.
“It’s not just those with Raynaud’s and scleroderma who benefit either. By helping people to stay in work, companies will retain talented and knowledgeable workers, benefit from increased employee engagement and avoid costly and time-consuming recruitment activity. We hope our guides will spark a change in how Raynaud’s and scleroderma is perceived and understood so that people get the support they need and deserve at work.”