Some work environments pose many possible hazards for people with epilepsy, while others may not be suitable for someone with seizures. When looking at safety in the workplace, a number of factors should be considered such as:

  • The type of job – Some jobs may pose greater risks or not be right for a person with seizures. Does it involve driving, working around dangerous machinery, flying?
  • Risks in the environment- Does the work require climbing? Is the area safe if a person were to have a seizure?
  • Work hours – Some work schedules may increase the likelihood of someone having a seizure, such as frequently changing shifts or night hours resulting in sleep deprivation.
  • Availability of seizure first aid – Are people available to help if the person needs it or does he work alone? Do people know how to provide appropriate help?
  • Employer and employee attitudes and behaviors – What are the attitudes and reactions of people in the workplace? Are they supportive and understanding?
  • Need for disclosure about seizures – Does the employer need to know about your seizures? If seizures are well-controlled and don’t affect the ability to do the work, people should think carefully about disclosing information about epilepsy or any health condition.

Accommodations

Most jobs may be made safer with a few changes and in many cases employers are required by law to make reasonable adjustments. These adjustments or ‘accommodations’ are changes in the job, environment, or other supports that will allow the person to perform the job and are ‘reasonable’ for the employer to make.

Discussing the potential safety risk with the employer is the first step before adjustments in job responsibilities or environment can be made. For example,

  • A banker with a recent unprovoked seizure got approval from the boss to use a car service instead of driving a rental car while traveling for work.
  • An office worker with complex partial seizures that cause wandering uses a sign-out sheet so co-workers are not concerned when she is away from the work area for lunch or work-related errands.

Individuals who obtain total seizure control on antiepileptic medication have no need for safety plans at work. Certain jobs, such as a school bus driver or neurosurgeon, are much too risky for people whose seizures are not fully controlled. These jobs place both the person with seizures and others at risk.

Seizures and Type of Accommodations 

Some changes in the workplace can be done very easily. For example,

  • An accountant with occasional complex partial seizures that cause falls asked to work in an office with carpeting to cushion the fall if a seizure occurred.
  • An engineer with rare complex partial seizures that cause wandering requested an office away from the stairs.

Some jobs that are risky for people with seizures can be made safer with safety devices or other adjustments.

  • Michael, who recently began experiencing tonic-clonic seizures, had worked as a pool cleaner for years and enjoyed his job. After the seizures started, he began wearing a life vest to prevent drowning if a seizure occurred while he was near a pool.
  • Susan, who had complex partial seizures after an automobile accident, had always wanted to work at a deli counter. She negotiated with her co-workers to avoid using the meat slicer and she wore rubber gloves when making sandwiches to avoid any bad cuts on her hands.
  • Safety devices such as helmets and waist harnesses can be used for people who work at heights, and automatic shut-off devices or safety guards for people who work around machinery.

General Safety Tips 

  • Use the elevator instead of stairs.
  • Only climb to heights that would not cause injury if a seizure occurred.
  • If seizures are not controlled, talk to your doctor or nurse about how seizures should be handled at work.
  • Develop a plan for seizure first aid with your employer and involve relevant co-workers (who may be present when seizures occur). Make sure this plan includes when to call for emergency care.

Creating a safe work environment for people with uncontrolled seizures requires co-workers and employers to be adaptable to the safety adjustments needed. Epilepsy-friendly employers and co-workers do exist. If problems develop at work, help may be available from the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects people with disability from job discrimination. (Visit the Job Accommodation Network's web site.)

For more information about work and epilepsy:

Authored by: Steven C. Schachter, MD | Patricia O. Shafer, RN, MN | Joseph I. Sirven, MD on 9/2013
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