The health and safety of disabled employees at work is extremely important. An easily accessible and safe workplace for disabled people will ultimately prove to be a safer and easily accessible place for all employees, clients and visitors.
The term ‘accessibility’ does not necessarily mean just access to the buildings. In a work environment, it also refers to the ease with which disabled workers can move independently and safely around the entire premises.
The Work Environment
If the existing design of the work site does not accommodate the special needs of disabled employees, adjustments must be made. These modifications will help disabled workers move around the premises safely and easily.
- It is necessary to adjust workstations and buildings by installing ramps, lifts, gripping bars, gradual steps, special lighting, warning strips, warning audio systems, automatically opening doors, doorbells and handles. It is necessary to install entry devices and switches at lower heights, reachable by wheelchair uses. It is also important to remove slippery flooring and tiles.
- It is possible to assign disabled workers to a specific work area that may be easier for them to access, like the ground floor.
- Color contrasts in paint, walls, doors, carpets and floors will help disabled employees move around the premises easily. Signboards in large, clear print or Braille directions will help partially sighted or visually impaired employees. Signboards must also have a matte finish to avoid reflection, for easier reading and comprehension. Providing pictures and graphics by door handles is a good option for those with learning disabilities.
- Modifying work equipment by installing Braille keyboards and hands-free phones is a good option to cater to the visually impaired. Providing a reader/interpreter during meetings and occasions will help the hearing impaired.
- All health and safety information must be provided in accessible formats to workers with visual or hearing impairments, dyslexia, learning disabilities or psychiatric disorders.
- To cater to the needs of disabled workers with musculoskeletal upper limb disorder, it is a good idea to install voice recognition software on the computers.
To avoid renovating workplaces and incurring additional costs later, it is best to incorporate these adjustments at the design and planning stage itself.
Training and Supervising
Adequate measures must be taken to ensure that disabled workers are not disadvantaged when it comes to health and safety training and instructions. Traditional modes of communication do not work when it comes to disabled employees.
- Communicating the information or providing the materials through different mediums like Braille, large print, text form and simple audio recordings will aid in better understanding.
- Providing individual training tailored to their needs and capabilities will help in ensuring they understand.
- Providing Occupational Health and Safety Training specific to employee needs on campus is important since different people have different disabilities.
- Providing specially trained managers and staff to evacuate disabled workers in case of an emergency by using special evacuation equipment will help support disabled employees.
Employers must ensure that the health and safety of disabled workers are main priorities and that designated staff provide support whenever necessary. Disability organizations also help companies devise innovative ways to communicate information to disabled employees.
All workplaces need to know how to support disabled workers in case of an emergency. Proper evacuation procedures must be in place for evacuating the disabled workers fast, if required. Companies must purchase special evacuation equipment and provide proper and accessible storage areas for them. Trained members of the staff assigned to help and alert disabled workers in case of evacuation must know basic sign language. Escape routes must be clearly established and made known to all the employees.
Vibrating, visual devices and lighted fire strobes are supplemental systems to the traditional, audible alarms that help alert disabled employees. Installing alarms in all possible areas including restrooms is important. Individually training all disabled workers in the health and safety norms of the workplace, evacuation procedures and escape routes is important so that they will not be entirely helpless in case of an emergency.
Disabled employees must also submit details regarding their medication and medical equipment, allergies, names and phone numbers of family members and doctors.
The work site must have basic medical supplies and first aid kits, gloves, and more - learn your specific needs.
Employers can consult local fire stations, police and rescue departments to find out what disabled workers need to do in case of an emergency; if they need to remain where they are and wait to be rescued or evacuated immediately.
Consulting the disabled employees themselves about their former experiences reveals valuable input that employers may not know otherwise. Procedures adopted without consulting the disabled workers may miss important information.
Health and Safety
Measures designed to protect employees from harm must not be used in a discriminatory way against the disabled workers by treating them less favorably than the rest. For example, employers must not claim that wheelchair users cannot escape from a building in an emergency or that a hearing-impaired worker cannot hear and respond to a fire alarm.
Employers need to do a risk assessment of the workplace and determine what measures can be taken to accommodate the disabled workers.
Assessing the Workplace for Risk
Risk assessment involves examining the workplace for what could cause harm to the disabled employees, to judge whether existing precautions are sufficient or not. The objective is to identify potential hazards and evaluate them to determine the extent of risk involved. If the risk is great, appropriate preventive measures are adopted to ensure future safety of the disabled employees.
Workers and employers alike must work together to improve the condition of a workplace, ensuring that it promotes equal opportunities and reasonable accommodation for all disabled individuals, whether employees or visitors. Needs of disabled people must be considered at the design and construction stage itself, rather than waiting for a disabled person to be employed and then making necessary adjustments.