Injured and Disabled Employees: Getting them back to work

TONY MANGAN

Health and Safety Consultant at EazySAFE

Have you ever thought you could break a leg or arm on a skiing holiday or falling down the stairs? How about becoming more disabled? Perhaps a stroke? You could acquire a debilitating progressive disease like Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson. Or maybe this has happened to one of your employees. And then again, not all disabilities are obvious; mental health issues, hearing loss, back pain, heart condition, sight loss, autism…

Or perhaps the best person to do the job happens to have a disability and you want to hire them. Like all employees, people with disabilities can bring a range of skills to the workplace.

Having to replace an injured/disabled member of staff can be costly. You have recruitment and training costs and perhaps a lengthy period for the new hire to come up to speed. Will there be a “fit” with the company? The disabled person may very well be an expert in their work.

So, it may make sense to retain or return your employee to work.

How do you do this?

Think outside the box. There may be an option to deploy the person to other work, or to work part-time, job share or work from home.

Employers are obliged to provide reasonable accommodations to people returning to work. In many cases there are no costs. In many other cases the costs are recouped easily as the company does not have to hire and train a new employee.

Assistive technology may allow the person perform his or her job without difficulty.

For someone with sight loss, programmes using Microsoft already have a facility to change the size of letters, change the background and so-on. These facilities are to be found in “Accessibility”. Many people with sight loss can see to varying degrees.

 

 

 

 

A variety of supports are available to the employer and employee. These include: 

  • Grants to help employers retrain their staff with a disability.
  • Disability Awareness Training grants
  • Grants for adapting or equipping the workplace for staff with a disability
  • Wage subsidy schemes

The most important thing to do is to ask the injured employee. He/she is in the best position to know what is needed to get back to work.

It is very important to conduct a risk assessment for anyone returning to work after an injury or bad health condition. The Health and Safety Authority have produced a guide to inclusive health and safety practices for employees with disabilities (see further information below). These should be developed and included in the Safety Statement.

Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP)

All staff must be trained on emergency evacuation procedures. People with a disability may need their own Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP). This is a dedicated escape plan for individuals who may not be able to reach the specified emergency evacuation point unaided. A temporary PEEP may be required for:

  • Short-term injuries (e.g. a broken leg).
  • Temporary medical conditions.
  • Those in the latter stages of pregnancy.

Wheelchair users may be assisted down the stairs by two, three or four people. An evacuation chair may also be used. Those with sight or hearing loss may have a “buddy” assigned, who alerts the person when the fire alarm is activated and ensures that person exits the building safely. Also, for those with difficulty hearing, electronic devices are available which activate a vibrating pager when the fire alarm sounds. Visual alarm systems may be another solution. More information may be obtained by contacting national bodies representing people with particular disabilities (see below).

Benefits to Employees

Returning to work for employees has many benefits-it improves their finances, enhances physical health, they regain social interaction and gains confidence.

In general, staff on Invalidity Pension and Illness Benefit will not retain these payments when they return to work. Staff on Partial Capacity Benefit can retain their benefit when they resume working. Those on Disability Allowance may retain some of their payment under particular circumstances.

What the Law Says…

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005 states that employers must “ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the safety, health and welfare at work for all employees”. Regulation 25 of the General Application Regulations-Employees with Disabilities- states that “An employer shall ensure that places of work, where necessary, are organised to take account of persons at work with disabilities, in particular as regards doors, passageways, staircases, showers, washbasins, lavatories and workstations used or occupied directly by those persons”.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015, employers are obliged to take appropriate measures-‘reasonable accommodation’- (unless the costs of doing so are disproportionate) to enable people with disabilities to have access to employment, to participate or advance in  employment and to undergo training. Such measures may include training or adaptations to the workplace, equipment or pattern of working time. It also outlaws discrimination on grounds of disability in employment, including training and recruitment. However it also states that an employer is not obliged to recruit or retain a person who is not fully competent or capable of doing the job.

Under the Disability Act 2005, public bodies such as local authorities, the civil service, the HSE etc must reserve 3% of jobs for people with a disability.

Further information

AHEAD (Association for Higher Education Access and Disability) http://www.ahead.ie/graduate

Assistive technology: Citizens Information Board- http://www.assistireland.ie/eng/

Deaf or hearing loss: https://www.chime.ie

Employability: https://www.welfare.ie/en/Pages/EmployAbility-Service.aspx#

Employees with Disabilities (HSA Publication):

https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Publications_and_Forms/Publications/Safety_and_Health_Management/Employees_with_disabilities1.pdf

Employers Disability Information Service: http://www.employerdisabilityinfo.ie/

Health and Safety Authority: https://www.hsa.ie/

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/justice/law_and_rights/irish_human_rights_commission.html

National Council for the Blind of Ireland.  https://www.ncbi.ie

For help with planning or organising your safety goals, get in touch here

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