On the Footplate with Crohn's Disease - Disability History Month

2020-12-17 -
Array, ASLEF
Paul Miles is leaning out of a red freight train cab

UK Disability History Month runs from 18th November to 18th December 2020. ASLEF is marking the month with a series of blogs from members of our Disabled members forum , sharing their experiences of disability in the workplace.

Disabled members forum District 7 representative and DB Cargo driver Paul Miles writes about working on the footplate with Crohn's disease since 1992:

Crohn's disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It causes inflammation of your digestive tract, which can lead to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and malnutrition. Inflammation caused by Crohn's disease can involve different areas of the digestive tract in different people.

In Crohn's disease, any part of your small or large intestine can be involved, and it may be continuous or may involve multiple segments. In some people, the disease is confined to the colon, which is part of the large intestine.

Signs and symptoms of Crohn's disease can range from mild to severe. They usually develop gradually, but sometimes will come on suddenly, without warning. You may also have periods of time when you have no signs or symptoms (remission).

When the disease is active, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Blood in your stool
  • Mouth sores
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss

Crohn's disease and working in the freight sector during the Corona Virus pandemic hasn’t been without its challenges. Although I have learnt to manage this disease with my job sometimes life can throw up unexpected things that cause stress which is one of the main trigger points for me.

Being a freight driver and having such poor availability to facilities unlike my colleagues in the passenger sector has meant there are many foods I cannot eat leading up to a shift where I know there will be little if any opportunity to access a toilet. The working conditions for freight drivers are at a far lower standard than that of the TOC sector.

The Corona virus pandemic has meant many station toilets or toilets in public places are closed or have restricted access which in turn adds to stress and means driving shifts that see me in the seat for five hours without a break have to be managed.

Because Crohn’s disease is an illness that you would describe as a hidden disability sympathy and empathy are sometimes missed in the workplace. Messroom banter , a badly worded text message or email can sometimes be enough to trigger a flare up of the illness. Items such as a radar key to access toilets have helped over the years but people suffering from this unsociable disease are usually sensitive to stress and have to be very careful by managing the trigger points to stay in remission.

Having to tell line managers or colleagues you have a disease that effects your physical and mental health and well-being is a hard thing to talk about which is one of the reasons I stepped up to represent my district on The Disabled Members forum to not only raise awareness but to play a part in shaping union policy.