Migraine at Work
Migraine headaches are a genuine and widespread health condition that may affect workers' ability to perform their tasks .
Migraine is estimated to directly affect about 12 per cent of Australia's population, according to the Australian Brain Foundation.
Some sufferers may have migraine only once or twice a year, while others may have it two or three times a week. Migraine attacks can last from several hours to several days.
The term migraine refers to severe recurring headaches, usually experienced on one side of the head and often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, sensitivity to light and in some cases visual impairment and the sensation of flashing lights. Not all headaches are migraines.
Not every migraine sufferer's work capacity is reduced by a migraine attack. Many well known people, including business and industry leaders, are migraine sufferers. Some migraines are preceded by warning symptoms such as flashing lights or blind spots.
Some employees may find their work capacity greatly reduced by migraine, and sick leave may need to be taken. By reducing concentration, fine motor skills and judgement, migraine may also affect an employee's ability to work safely.
Employees should let their employers know if they have a migraine attack at work. Employers should make sure no lapse in safe work procedures occurs because of a sufferer's migraine attack.
It is good policy for employers to follow up repeated migraine absenteeism to see whether the sufferer's work environment or procedures need to be modified, so that the severity and the incidence of future migraines may be minimised.
Under Western Australian legislation, it would be difficult to establish migraine as an occupational or work-related disease.
The triggers that lead to migraine attacks are many and varied, and are not limited to workplaces.
Yet because a great number of migraine sufferers go to work, and some of the triggers that cause migraine are found in workplaces, migraine is an illness that may occur at work.
People who suffer from migraine are usually advised by their doctors to avoid or to minimise the triggers, if any, that may cause migraine. In some cases, the condition can be managed by the use of medication.
Known migraine triggers include certain foods, heat, glare, noise, over-exertion or stress.
Some women suffer regularly from menstrual migraine, brought on by their menstrual cycle.
Employers should be aware the condition is real, not imaginary or emotional, and may impair an employee's ability to work during an attack. Sufferers should be dealt with in fairness and sympathy.
Employers can assist by discussing with the migraine sufferer ways of minimising possible migraine triggers at work. This approach would also help prevent non-migraine headaches in other employees.
For further information on migraine, please contact: Australian Brain Foundation, Neurological Lotteries House, 320 Rokeby Road Subiaco 6008. Phone: (09) 382 2320. Fax: (09) 382 1149.
Source: Updated from an article in SafetyLine No. 26, May 1995.