Last reviewed on 16/02/2015 09:37

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The Equality Act 2010 defines a disabled person as 'an individual with a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term negative effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'.

There are approximately 8.6 million people in the UK who are covered by the the Equality Act, over 5.5 million of whom are of working age - that's 16% of the total workforce.

If you have a disabled employee - whether a new appointment or a change in the status of an existing member of staff - you should carry out a risk assessment to ensure that their health and safety needs are catered for within the company's overall plan.

Some of the things you should consider in terms of the individual's needs are:

  • access to toilet facilities
  • access to the kitchen or other refreshment facilities
  • safe evacuation in the event of fire
  • comfort and ease in carrying out his or her work.

What is a 'disability'?

When we talk about 'disability', the image that comes to most people's minds is a person in a wheelchair. But disability covers a much wider range - just think again about the Equality Act definition.

A disabled person could be someone who is fully mobile, but may be deaf, or have a severe speech impediment, or have problems with his or her sight - tunnel vision or red/green colour blindness, for example. They could also have a long-term mental health problem, such as depression.

You need to know if any of your present or possible future employees has a disability and make sure that you make 'reasonable adjustments' if this person could be deemed to be at a disadvantage in relation to others in the workplace, as required by the Equality Act.

Disabling disability

Here is a list of some of the ways you could make life a bit easier for a disabled employee:

  • making sure that he or she has a safe means of evacuation in an emergency
  • job re-design, e.g. ensuring that someone with a severe stammer does not have to answer the phone
  • ensuring that he or she can reach the various workplace facilities (toilets, coffee area) easily and safely
  • adjustments within the workplace, e.g. ensuring that someone with a sight problem has the best possible lighting for their condition around them, or re-arranging their workstation so that everything they need is within safe, easy reach
  • flexible working patterns, e.g. if someone is physically disabled, arrange their working day so that they don't have to travel in the rush hour
  • career breaks, e.g. someone suffering from depression could take a short break to help them cope with the situation
  • home working, e.g. someone who has difficulty walking and whose work is done mainly via computer could successfully work from home most of the time.

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