In the UK there are approximately 10 million people of working age who are disabled. This is a huge number and therefore regulations are necessary to ensure fair health and safety entitlement to all. According to the Equality Act 2010, a person with a disability is someone who has a mental or physical impairment which limits or restricts them from carrying out normal every day duties in the long term. Some disabilities are not easily recognized, such as asthma, chronic back pain, migraines or dyslexia. All these can impair a person’s ability. Employers have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 not to treat persons’ with disabilities in an unfair way. This means adjustments in the workplace must be made. This includes physical amendments, for example, installing wheelchair ramps to supplying an orthopedic chair for a person with chronic lower back pain. ‘Attitude’ adjustments must also be made, for example, allowing extra time for a person on crutches to carry out tasks, i.e they may not be as mobile as employees who are not disabled. ‘Attitude’ means no discrimination under any circumstances connected with a person’s disability. Discrimination may not be intentional, so diversity and equality training should be part of every organizations’ commitment to ensuring a risk free and happy workplace for all.
Risk assessments should be carried out to cater for employing people who are disabled; to ensure they are not at risk of injury or harm at work. This should involve employers making reasonable and practicable adjustments to protect workers. Risk assessment must be carried out to eliminate risks both from vulnerable workers and those around them. Physical provisions may include installing accessible passageways, stairways, lavatories and work stations. The work equipment or work roles must be adjustmented so it is not dangerous to be operated or used by a person with a disability. For example, if there is a risk to a person with a disability, part of the role may be given to a temporary worker who can carry it out without any health and safety risk. A risk assessment will involve identifying the hazards present, evaluating the risks and then taking preventative measures. For example, asthma suffers may be more sensitive to chemicals at work and so therefore a change in job location may have to be improvised. Training or specialized equipment, if necessary, should be accessible to disabled workers. Health and safety and anti-discrimination regulations must be adhered to that risks and discrimination are removed or at least are negligible.
Health and Safety should not be used as an excuse not to employ or continue employing people who are disabled, for example, claiming that a person with hearing difficulties cannot respond to a fire alarm. Flashing lights can be used to alert a person with a hearing impairment of a fire or other emergency. There may be extreme cases, where there is a genuine problem that cannot be over come to accommodate a disabled person. In this case competent advice and a specialist disabilities organization may need to be involved to support risk assessments. As a last resort, an employee with a disability may need to be transferred to another job, but this should only be used as a last resort.