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“Addressing Safety Challenges for Disabled Workers” – “How Do You Get Through Your Day?”

Richie Parker, HMS Engineer -“How Do You Get Through Your Day?” – Video Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports® ESPN®

Employees in today’s workplace face many challenges. Work forces have been cut, and in many cases, workdays have been extended. Older workers are unable to retire, while younger workers are unable to find work. New technology is introduced into the workplace, requiring all to relearn how to perform their jobs. This is difficult for the average worker, but it is extremely difficult if an employee is further hindered by disabilities.

Disabilities of all types affect employees and can pose various mental or physical challenges. In many situations, a disability may impact the amount of time it takes for an employee to complete a task or get from one part of a facility to another. Some disabilities may be known while others remain unknown to an employer. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees with disabilities can continue to work without fear of losing their jobs1.

All employees with disabilities deserve the right to support their families. If otherwise qualified for a job, a disability should not take away an individual’s opportunity to work. Existing laws protected those discriminated against for race, sex, national origin and color, but the ADA was the first law to speak for those with disabilities in the workplace.

The ADA disallows discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals in an employment setting because of mental or physical disabilities2. This means that in many situations, the employer has to adjust a work environment to allow an employee to function. In 2009, the ADA was amended to include additional information and coverage. This amendment required the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to make changes to their regulations regarding the term “substantially limits” and how it is defined2. It also broadens the definition of “major life activities” to include many new activities.

Workplace Adaptations

As with any law that changes the workplace, some fight or avoid it while others fully embrace and promote it. One major compliance concern deals with accessibility. Because of this, many workplaces have adjusted or created more accessible entrances and exits to their facilities, allowing more independence for persons in wheelchairs. Other subtle changes may include the height of water fountains, width of bathroom stalls, hand rails inside the stalls and long ramps instead of stairs. The path of travel that employees take should never be obstructed; there should be no barriers to prevent someone from getting to safety in an emergency3.

Making accommodations in the workplace is important, yet one must avoid making a spectacle of employees with disabilities. One concept being utilized in workplaces is universal design, which is best defined as designing products and work spaces to allow use by everyone, regardless of disability4. This eliminates many cases of employees standing out or requiring special assistance to be able to complete their tasks. Better designed work spaces can increase function for all employees, regardless of age4. This still is a relatively new idea and few examples exist in the workplace despite multiple studies proving the effectiveness.

The goal is to remove all barriers and allow everyone to concentrate on completing job tasks.

Workstations easily can be adapted to follow this universal design. Many companies now use slide-out keyboard trays and monitors on swinging arms to allow employees to adjust to their needs. Desks can accommodate wheelchairs in place of regular chairs, and general work spaces can be lowered to allow easier access. All workplaces eventually will follow the universal design approach3. The main goal is to remove all barriers and allow everyone to concentrate more on completing their tasks.

The biggest challenge with universal design is accommodating the multitude of challenges that different disabilities present. Not all disabilities are the same, and not all will present the same challenges for employees. Some employees may have issues with their right hand while others have issues with their left. For some, it may involve not being able to stand or sit. Some may need low lighting, while others need bright lighting. Designing a facility to accommodate all is always going to be a challenge.

Some disabilities require a service animal to be able to get around or reach materials. ADA protects those that need such animals. This can create another complication for an employer if other employees are allergic to such animals. The employer must work with all parties involved to find a solution.

Companies using older facilities often have the most trouble complying with guidelines of the ADA. Designing a building from the ground up is much easier than attempting to retrofit existing facilities. Some of the complications with retrofitting facilities include adding adequate doorways. Depending on the design of the structure, adding doorways can be complicated and require an extensive amount of remodeling. Other complications include retrofitting areas with stairs and restrooms with stalls that are too narrow. Moving plumbing may require the existing floor to be torn out and require a lot of time.

Read the remainder of the story here: http://ehstoday.com/safety/addressing-safety-challenges-disabled-workers

Source: EHS Today®

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Addressing Safety Challenges for Disabled Workers – “How Do You Get Through Your Day?”

Richie Parker, HMS Engineer -“How Do You Get Through Your Day?” – Video Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports® ESPN®

Employees in today’s workplace face many challenges. Work forces have been cut, and in many cases, workdays have been extended. Older workers are unable to retire, while younger workers are unable to find work. New technology is introduced into the workplace, requiring all to relearn how to perform their jobs. This is difficult for the average worker, but it is extremely difficult if an employee is further hindered by disabilities.

Disabilities of all types affect employees and can pose various mental or physical challenges. In many situations, a disability may impact the amount of time it takes for an employee to complete a task or get from one part of a facility to another. Some disabilities may be known while others remain unknown to an employer. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees with disabilities can continue to work without fear of losing their jobs1.

All employees with disabilities deserve the right to support their families. If otherwise qualified for a job, a disability should not take away an individual’s opportunity to work. Existing laws protected those discriminated against for race, sex, national origin and color, but the ADA was the first law to speak for those with disabilities in the workplace.

The ADA disallows discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals in an employment setting because of mental or physical disabilities2. This means that in many situations, the employer has to adjust a work environment to allow an employee to function. In 2009, the ADA was amended to include additional information and coverage. This amendment required the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to make changes to their regulations regarding the term “substantially limits” and how it is defined2. It also broadens the definition of “major life activities” to include many new activities.

Workplace Adaptations

As with any law that changes the workplace, some fight or avoid it while others fully embrace and promote it. One major compliance concern deals with accessibility. Because of this, many workplaces have adjusted or created more accessible entrances and exits to their facilities, allowing more independence for persons in wheelchairs. Other subtle changes may include the height of water fountains, width of bathroom stalls, hand rails inside the stalls and long ramps instead of stairs. The path of travel that employees take should never be obstructed; there should be no barriers to prevent someone from getting to safety in an emergency3.

Making accommodations in the workplace is important, yet one must avoid making a spectacle of employees with disabilities. One concept being utilized in workplaces is universal design, which is best defined as designing products and work spaces to allow use by everyone, regardless of disability4. This eliminates many cases of employees standing out or requiring special assistance to be able to complete their tasks. Better designed work spaces can increase function for all employees, regardless of age4. This still is a relatively new idea and few examples exist in the workplace despite multiple studies proving the effectiveness.

The goal is to remove all barriers and allow everyone to concentrate on completing job tasks.

Workstations easily can be adapted to follow this universal design. Many companies now use slide-out keyboard trays and monitors on swinging arms to allow employees to adjust to their needs. Desks can accommodate wheelchairs in place of regular chairs, and general work spaces can be lowered to allow easier access. All workplaces eventually will follow the universal design approach3. The main goal is to remove all barriers and allow everyone to concentrate more on completing their tasks.

The biggest challenge with universal design is accommodating the multitude of challenges that different disabilities present. Not all disabilities are the same, and not all will present the same challenges for employees. Some employees may have issues with their right hand while others have issues with their left. For some, it may involve not being able to stand or sit. Some may need low lighting, while others need bright lighting. Designing a facility to accommodate all is always going to be a challenge.

Some disabilities require a service animal to be able to get around or reach materials. ADA protects those that need such animals. This can create another complication for an employer if other employees are allergic to such animals. The employer must work with all parties involved to find a solution.

Companies using older facilities often have the most trouble complying with guidelines of the ADA. Designing a building from the ground up is much easier than attempting to retrofit existing facilities. Some of the complications with retrofitting facilities include adding adequate doorways. Depending on the design of the structure, adding doorways can be complicated and require an extensive amount of remodeling. Other complications include retrofitting areas with stairs and restrooms with stalls that are too narrow. Moving plumbing may require the existing floor to be torn out and require a lot of time.

Read the remainder of the story here: http://ehstoday.com/safety/addressing-safety-challenges-disabled-workers

Source: EHS Today®

Addressing Safety Challenges for Disabled Workers – “How Do You Get Through Your Day?”

Richie Parker, HMS Engineer -“How Do You Get Through Your Day?” – Video Courtesy of Hendrick Motorsports® ESPN®

Employees in today’s workplace face many challenges. Work forces have been cut, and in many cases, workdays have been extended. Older workers are unable to retire, while younger workers are unable to find work. New technology is introduced into the workplace, requiring all to relearn how to perform their jobs. This is difficult for the average worker, but it is extremely difficult if an employee is further hindered by disabilities.

Disabilities of all types affect employees and can pose various mental or physical challenges. In many situations, a disability may impact the amount of time it takes for an employee to complete a task or get from one part of a facility to another. Some disabilities may be known while others remain unknown to an employer. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employees with disabilities can continue to work without fear of losing their jobs1.

All employees with disabilities deserve the right to support their families. If otherwise qualified for a job, a disability should not take away an individual’s opportunity to work. Existing laws protected those discriminated against for race, sex, national origin and color, but the ADA was the first law to speak for those with disabilities in the workplace.

The ADA disallows discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals in an employment setting because of mental or physical disabilities2. This means that in many situations, the employer has to adjust a work environment to allow an employee to function. In 2009, the ADA was amended to include additional information and coverage. This amendment required the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to make changes to their regulations regarding the term “substantially limits” and how it is defined2. It also broadens the definition of “major life activities” to include many new activities.

Workplace Adaptations

As with any law that changes the workplace, some fight or avoid it while others fully embrace and promote it. One major compliance concern deals with accessibility. Because of this, many workplaces have adjusted or created more accessible entrances and exits to their facilities, allowing more independence for persons in wheelchairs. Other subtle changes may include the height of water fountains, width of bathroom stalls, hand rails inside the stalls and long ramps instead of stairs. The path of travel that employees take should never be obstructed; there should be no barriers to prevent someone from getting to safety in an emergency3.

Making accommodations in the workplace is important, yet one must avoid making a spectacle of employees with disabilities. One concept being utilized in workplaces is universal design, which is best defined as designing products and work spaces to allow use by everyone, regardless of disability4. This eliminates many cases of employees standing out or requiring special assistance to be able to complete their tasks. Better designed work spaces can increase function for all employees, regardless of age4. This still is a relatively new idea and few examples exist in the workplace despite multiple studies proving the effectiveness.

The goal is to remove all barriers and allow everyone to concentrate on completing job tasks.

Workstations easily can be adapted to follow this universal design. Many companies now use slide-out keyboard trays and monitors on swinging arms to allow employees to adjust to their needs. Desks can accommodate wheelchairs in place of regular chairs, and general work spaces can be lowered to allow easier access. All workplaces eventually will follow the universal design approach3. The main goal is to remove all barriers and allow everyone to concentrate more on completing their tasks.

The biggest challenge with universal design is accommodating the multitude of challenges that different disabilities present. Not all disabilities are the same, and not all will present the same challenges for employees. Some employees may have issues with their right hand while others have issues with their left. For some, it may involve not being able to stand or sit. Some may need low lighting, while others need bright lighting. Designing a facility to accommodate all is always going to be a challenge.

Some disabilities require a service animal to be able to get around or reach materials. ADA protects those that need such animals. This can create another complication for an employer if other employees are allergic to such animals. The employer must work with all parties involved to find a solution.

Companies using older facilities often have the most trouble complying with guidelines of the ADA. Designing a building from the ground up is much easier than attempting to retrofit existing facilities. Some of the complications with retrofitting facilities include adding adequate doorways. Depending on the design of the structure, adding doorways can be complicated and require an extensive amount of remodeling. Other complications include retrofitting areas with stairs and restrooms with stalls that are too narrow. Moving plumbing may require the existing floor to be torn out and require a lot of time.

Read the remainder of the story here: http://ehstoday.com/safety/addressing-safety-challenges-disabled-workers

Source: EHS Today®

Prescribed Drugs: What Can Companies Do About This Potential Safety Hazard?

Scenario: One of your employees is taking a legally prescribed medication and works with machinery that has the potential to maim or kill. The label on the medication warns against driving or operating machinery while taking the drug. What do you do?

For more and more companies, the answer is, fire the employee if he/she can’t stay off the medication.

But is a blanket policy fair to employees? What if, under a doctor’s supervision, the medication doesn’t impair the worker?

The issue is in the courts.

Dura Automotive Systems, a manufacturer of car windows, is facing two lawsuits after firing employees who tested positive for prescription drugs, including painkillers such as hydrocodone.

Dura added certain legal drugs to its employee testing because of concerns that employees taking these medications posed safety hazards.

About 500 Dura employees submitted urine samples, and 44 tested positive. They were put on a 30-day leave of absence and had to pass a second test to return to their jobs.

Experts are split on what to do about this issue.

“Given the liability for industrial accidents or product defects or workplace injuries involving prescription drug abuse, employers cannot afford not to address this issue,” Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace told The New York Times.

On the other hand, Dr. Seddon Savage, a pain specialist at Dartmouth College and president of the American Pain Society, said, “Well-prescribed opioids at a stable dose that are well supervised in most healthy people won’t cause sedation or other cognitive problems.”

Lawyers for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed one of the lawsuits against Dura, say an employer must have a reasonable belief an employee is unable to do a job or poses a threat to terminate someone using a prescription drug.

How widespread is this problem? Consider two things:

  1. In the situation involving Dura, 8.8% of employees tested positive.
  2. Drug-testing company Quest Diagnostics recently reported that use of prescription opiates jumped 18% from 2008 to 2009 and 40% from 2005 to 2009.

Given the controversial nature of this subject, you might wonder why some companies are wandering into this potential minefield.

One reason: Many states provide incentives — such as discounts on workers’ compensation premiums — for employers to drug test their employees.

Dura’s drug tests were part of its participation in Tennessee’s Drug-Free Workplace Program, which provided workers’ comp incentives.

Sue Bates, one of the employees who was fired and is suing Dura, said she understands the company’s safety concerns. However, she believed the company should have worked with employees who take prescription drugs rather than fire them.

What can companies do? According to Quest, they should develop thorough and consistent policies that spell out which drugs their workers might be tested for and under what circumstances.

But until some of these lawsuits are heard, it won’t be a surprise if companies take a wait-and-see attitude about testing for legal drugs.

EEOC Publishes ADAAA Final Regulations – Effective May 24, 2011

New regulations broaden the definition of a disability

Posted March 25, 2011

The EEOC’s final regulations implementing the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) were published in the March 25, 2011 Federal Register. They become effective May 24, 2011. The major focus of the regulations is the definition of a disability.

The Act and the new regulations will make it easier for individuals to claim protection under the law, as the definition of a disability is broadened and easier to meet. This will result in the need for employers to provide more accommodations, and will require employers to shift their focus from whether an individual has a disability to whether discrimination occurred.

What’s changed

The law retained the basic definition of disability:

  1. Impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities,
  2. A record of such an impairment, or
  3. Being regarded as having such an impairment.

The regulations (Appendix), however, provide an updated interpretation, attempting to reflect Congressional and EEOC goals. An individual has a disability if he or she:

  1. Has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of that person’s major life activities (the “actual disability” prong);
  2. Has a record of such an impairment (the “record of” prong); or
  3. Is regarded by the covered entity as an individual with a disability; the individual has been subjected to a prohibited action because of an actual or perceived impairment that is not both transitory and minor (the “regarded as” prong).

Under the first two prongs, an individual must have or have had a disability. Under the third prong, an individual need not have a disability; the impairment need not substantially limit or be perceived to substantially limit, a major life activity.

Some of the other major changes the law and the regulations made include the following:

  • Expansion of the list of major life activities to include major bodily functions. These lists are not exhaustive.
  • The use of mitigating measures (other than ordinary eyeglasses or contact lenses) cannot be considered in assessing whether an individual has a disability.
  • An impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.
  • The definition of “regarded as” does not require a showing that an employer perceived the individual to be substantially limited in a major life activity.
  • Employment actions based on an impairment include actions based on symptoms of, or mitigating measures used for, an impairment.
  • Individuals covered only under the “regarded as” prong are not entitled to reasonable accommodation.
  • Qualification standards, employment tests, or other selection criteria based on an individual’s uncorrected vision are not to be used unless shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.
  • An individualized assessment as to whether an impairment is substantially limiting needs to be performed.

The effect of the changes

As a result of these changes, employers should shift their focus from whether an employee has a disability to the following:

  • Whether discrimination occurred because of a disability,
  • Whether an individual was qualified for a job, and
  • Whether a reasonable accommodation was called for.

With the inclusion of major bodily functions in major life activities, as well as the body systems in the definition of impairments, it should be easier for employers to determine that an individual has a disability, and many more should.

When looking at whether or not an impairment substantially limits a major life activity, employers will need to analyze the situation using nine principles:

  1. Apply the term (“substantially limits”) broadly. Do not spend much effort on it.
  2. Significant or severe restriction is not required. However, not every impairment is substantially limiting.
  3. Substantial limitation should not be the primary object of attention. You don’t need to perform extensive analysis.
  4. Perform an individualized assessment.
  5. You shouldn’t need to use scientific, medical, or statistical analysis to determine whether someone can perform a major life activity compared to most people in the general population.
  6. Don’t consider mitigating measures. It doesn’t matter if an individual chooses to forgo mitigating measures.
  7. It doesn’t matter if the impairment is episodic or in remission.
  8. Individuals do not need to be substantially limited in more than one major life activity.
  9. Effects of an impairment lasting fewer than six months can be substantially limiting. Impairments that last only a short period of time may be covered if sufficiently severe.

Although the EEOC claims there is no “per se” disability, the regulations indicate that an individual assessment of “some kinds of impairments will virtually always result in a determination of disability,” and retain the same examples (deafness, blindness, intellectual disabilities, missing limbs, the use of a wheelchair, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV infection, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia).

Employers will probably need to provide more reasonable accommodations. However, the reasonable accommodation process should be simpler. For example, to the extent employers may have spent time reviewing medical records to determine whether a particular individual’s diabetes or epilepsy satisfied the legal definition of a substantially limiting impairment, there may be a cost savings in terms of reduced time spent by front-line supervisors, managers, HR staff, and even employees who request reasonable accommodations.

The third prong of the definition of a disability (“regarded as”) warrants some attention. Coverage under this prong should not be difficult for individuals to establish. Employers need not have considered whether a major life activity was substantially limited, and an individual need not demonstrate that he or she is substantially limited in a major life activity. This should be the primary means of establishing coverage in cases that do not involve reasonable accommodation, and consideration of coverage under the first and second prongs will generally not be necessary except in situations where an individual needs a reasonable accommodation. Where an impairment is both transitory and minor, it is exempted from coverage under this prong, however.

Conclusion

According to the preamble of the regulations, there are 38.4 million people in the workforce whose coverage is clarified under the new law and regulations. These are applicants or employees who will now be protected because of the changes. This may result in an increase of millions of requests for accommodations.

In light of the new law and its implementing regulations, the number of EEOC charges and lawsuits filed is expected to increase. In part, because more individuals with disabilities might file charges with the EEOC, and because plaintiff’s lawyers, who previously might not have filed an ADA lawsuit because they believed that an employee would not be covered, will now be more inclined to file lawsuits in cases where they believe that discrimination on the basis of disability — now broadly defined — has occurred.

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