It’s Purple Day – raising awareness of epilepsy

Photo by amandabhslater via Flickr, under Creative Commons Licence

Purple Day (the 26th March each year) is an international grassroots effort dedicated to increasing awareness about epilepsy worldwide. People in countries around the world are invited to wear purple and host events in support of epilepsy awareness. Purple was chosen to represent the day based on the colour lavender, which is the international colour for epilepsy; the lavender flower is also often associated with solitude, which is representative of the feelings of isolation many people affected by epilepsy and seizure disorders often feel.

Epilepsy affects over 50 million people worldwide or approximately one in 100 people (more than multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease combined) yet it is a very misunderstood (and therefore feared) and stigmatised condition.

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that is characterised by recurrent seizures (when there is a sudden excessive electrical discharge that disrupts the normal activity of the nerve cells in the brain). Approximately one in ten adults will experience at least one seizure during a lifetime (seizures can take many different forms, including  muscle spasms, uncontrolled movements, altered awareness, odd sensations, ‘losing a few minutes’ and not knowing what has happened, or convulsions) although having one seizure does not constitute epilepsy (epilepsy  is characterised by multiple seizures). If epilepsy is successfully controlled by medication, a person may be seizure-free so there is no reason why they shouldn’t lead a normal working life.

Employers need to carry out a risk assessment of employees diagnosed with epilepsy in order to identify any possible safety risks to the employee or others in the workplace. As epilepsy affects each person differently and every workplace is different it is not possible to have set guidelines for risk assessments for people with epilepsy. Each person must be assessed individually for any potential risks to health and safety that they may face at work. A risk assessment may indicate that a person’s epilepsy would have little effect on their ability to continue with their job, that some changes may be needed (i.e. avoiding the use of dangerous machinery) or, in some cases, that certain parts of a person’s job pose too much risk and should therefore be avoided. Information from the risk assessment (and subsequent re-assessments) should then be used to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace (see our guide ‘Making workplace adjustments’).

More information on epilepsy can be found in the guide on our website (‘Employees suffering from epilepsy’) or further guidance on epilepsy in the workplace (or other employee health issues) can be sought from the Health for Work Adviceline on 0800 0 77 88 44.

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