How employers can ensure safety for workers with disabilities

Proper assessment of a workplace's physical barriers is needed, says health and safety manager

How employers can ensure safety for workers with disabilities

According to the Canadian government, there are 645,000 Canadians with disabilities who have the potential to work who are currently not working. And even for those workers with disabilities, it can be hard to maintain employment if the organization is not offering accommodations which allow these workers to thrive – and be safe in the workplace. Workplaces need to be safe for workers of all different abilities.

First of all, employers need to keep in mind the physical features of the workspace, and figure out which physical barriers are in place. “They should also keep in mind the type of work that the individual is going to be doing,” says Rebecca Kalison, Team Lead, Peninsula Canada, an HR and health and safety manager.


For example, if a worker is using a keyboard all day, does the worker have the correct type of keyboard or mouse that is ergonomically adapted to the situation. Seating arrangements should also be taken into account, says Kalison, “do they have the right space built for them? Depending on the type of role they’re doing, are they required to walk around? Those are some things that employers should definitely take into consideration.”

Safety professionals and employers will also want to understand whether the impairment is short or long term when putting into place accommodations.

Being aware of ergonomics is generally great, says Kalison, because it also helps in the prevention of long-term injuries. But an employer should also take into consideration “ergonomics for individuals who need it in the long run.” She references an instance where an employee had to get their arm amputated, and the business did a “great job” bringing the employee back to work by changing their workstation. For example, the organization implemented a specific keyboard which can be used with one arm.

“It allows them to continue doing their job, so they don’t actually have to change their tasks and make the employee feel like they can’t do what they used to do. They are doing the exact same thing – it’s just the way they do it which is a little different. That’s actually pretty empowering for an individual who has gone through such a lifestyle change,” she says.

There are so many solutions available – “it may cost the business a little bit more, but you’re retaining top talent,” says Kalison. Companies have the opportunity to accommodate individuals with disabilities, they just need to make time and make it a priority.


“It’s important to keep in mind that for training, you should also think about employees who have disabilities – including learning disabilities – and maybe their way of training and learning things are a little bit different than your ‘traditional’ way,” says Kalison.

A lot of people don’t think about training from an accessibility standpoint, says Kalison, because usually once it is developed it is there until there is a legislative change. But employers need to think about employees who have disclosed a disability and how training (safety or otherwise) will apply to them.

And as with every part of the organization’s safety program, it should be auditing or inspected regularly to ensure that it is up to date and actually effective, it has to work for all workers.

Communication is also key – “you should also be transparent,” she says. Employers shouldn’t hesitate to sit down with workers needing accommodations to ask them what they need. When it comes to disabilities, HR and safety teams should work hand in hand to find solutions for workers. “Offering a flexible work environment is really good for staff, especially if they’re living with a disability,” says Kalison. And with the pandemic, more and more organizations are offering hybrid work models.

“Any disability should be handled on a case-by-case basis, because everyone is different. And also, the toles that they’re doing are different. It’s important for employers to not just have a copy and paste solution because that’s not going to work,” she says.