21/08/2003

Guide aims to help balance disability rights with health and safety

A guide developed as a joint initiative between Northern Ireland’s 26 district councils, the Health and Safety Executive, the Equality Commission and Disability Action, is offering local employers advice on balancing disability rights with health and safety in the workplace.

In Northern Ireland it is estimated that almost one in five people of working age has a long-term disability, including a wide range of physical or mental conditions which have an adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), which applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, it is unlawful to discriminate against disabled people in terms of recruitment, promotion, training, working conditions or dismissal. The Act also places a duty on employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ within their workplace for disabled workers.

However, concerns about health and safety issues have been identified as an artificial barrier to employment for disabled people.

“As a result, concerns over health and safety issues can lead employers to believe that disabled people cannot or should not either be employed, or retained if they become disabled whilst in employment,” said Gillian McEvoy, an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) with Belfast City Council.

“Recent studies have shown that the retention of a worker who has become disabled is often a much more cost effective option than recruiting and training a new employee. It simply does not make sense for organisations to lose employees with valuable skills and experience when they could perhaps be retained by a more flexible approach to rehabilitation being adopted.”

Restaurateur Alan Brown, of Dr B’s Kitchen in Belfast’s Bridge Street, said he felt that the new guide would prove useful to employers.

“There is an all too common misconception that disabled people have no place in the work environment, or that accommodating the needs of a disabled employee does not make business sense. It is my experience that nothing could be further from the truth and employees with disabilities have an often invaluable part to play in the successful running of my business,” he said.

The practical guide, marking the European Year of the Disabled Person, aims to help clarify employers’ responsibilities under both the DDA and health and safety at work legislation.

Belfast City Council’s EHOs will be promoting the guide during their routine contacts with local businesses, but copies are available by calling 028 9027 0428.

(SP)

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