Health and safety is for everyone, regardless of whether you’re able bodied or have a disability. However health and safety shouldn’t be used as an excuse for excluding disabled people from employment. Find out more below.
Under health and safety law, the primary responsibility for ensuring health and safety good practice is in place and is being used by all of its employees is down to the employer. This applies to everyone, able bodied and disabled employees. Since it not always obvious when someone has a disability its important to consult with employees on all issues related to health and safety.
As part of managing the health and safety in your company you must control the risks in your workplace. To do this you need to think about what might cause harm to people and decide whether you are taking reasonable steps to prevent that harm. This is called a risk assessment and it is something you are required by law to carry out. If you have fewer than five employees you don’t have to write anything down. A risk assessment is not there to create additional paperwork or another layer of bureaucracy, its simply there to help identify what measures need to be taken to control any risks in your workplace. You can read how to carry out a risk assessment in one of our other articles.
Contrary to many people’s belief there is no requirement to carry out a separate risk assessment for a disabled person. If you become aware that one of your employees or someone visiting your site has a disability then it may be appropriate to review your existing risk assessment(s) to make sure they cover any risks that might impact them.
It’s unwise to make assumptions about how a disability may affect someone’s ability to work, as disabilities can vary enormously and can affect people in very different ways. Some examples below show how changes can be made to allow a disabled person to work:
- If a driver loses an arm it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t drive anymore, instead steering wheels can be modified or replaced.
- If you employ a person who is deaf you can use flashing lights alongside the normal bell to warn when there’s a fire.
The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace. Under equality law, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled workers. The aim is to make sure that, as far as is reasonable (reasonable adjustments), a disabled worker has the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as a non-disabled person.
In many cases, making adjustments will be simple and cost very little, and as explained above an employer is not required to do more than is reasonable; for example improving access or layout, adapting work equipment, relocating a workstation, removal of physical barriers and/or providing extra support. What is reasonable will depend on a variety of things from size and nature of the business to the disability.
It’s important to remember that you cannot insist your employees tell you details of their disability, they are under no obligation to do so, and you must get their consent before approaching specialists or doctors.
Health and safety isn’t just down to employers. Employees must play their part too.
As an employee, you should:
- Take responsibility for your own health and safety and the health and safety of anyone who might be affected by what you are doing
- Work with your employer when it comes to health and safety matters. This includes ensuring you understand any risks associated with your work and how to minimise them, listening and following instructions, attending training and using any safety equipment that has been provided for your job
- Alert your employer if you see something that might harm you or someone else
You do not have to disclose your disability, however when making this decision it’s worth consider the following:
- You are protected under the Equality Act 2010. This means it’s unlawful for employers to treat an employee with a disability less favourably than other employees for any reason
- Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to ensure disabled workers aren’t disadvantaged when doing their jobs
- If you don’t let your employer know that you have a disability then they will not be able to take any measures to ensure your health and safety
Your employer should include you in any relevant health and safety information and training. They may need to involve others e.g.your doctor or a specialist to help them understand any effects that your disability may have on workplace health and safety and on how they can enable you to do the job you are doing as well as how to minimise those risks and make reasonable adjustments to ensure you are not disadvantaged. Your employer can only approach others if you give your consent.
Health and safety cannot be used to discriminate against disabled workers. There are no health and safety regulations that are specific to disabled people only. As mentioned at the beginning of the article health and safety is for everyone, regardless of whether you’re able bodied or have a disability. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers to protect all workers from the risk of injury or harm at work, so far as is reasonably practicable, whether they have a disability or not, so far as reasonably practicable .
Health and safety legislation should not prevent disabled people finding or staying in employment.