Magazine article Risk Management

Emergency Provisions for All: Ensuring That Disabled, Injured and Pregnant Employees Remain Safe in Any Situation

Magazine article Risk Management

Emergency Provisions for All: Ensuring That Disabled, Injured and Pregnant Employees Remain Safe in Any Situation

Article excerpt

A fire breaks out in your workplace, triggering the alarm. Among the many thoughts that flash though your mind is the hope that all employees are, and remain, safe. You take comfort in knowing that your company has an emergency response plan and employees have been trained on it. Early detection and escape are the most important keys to surviving.

This plan sounds good. But does it consider employees who need help exiting the building? If an employee is hearing-impaired, for example, he may not hear the alarm. If that employee is working alone, no one may know to look for him to let him know that the alarm has sounded. If an employee is in a wheelchair and is not on a ground floor, she may need rescue assistance.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 36 million Americans who have a disability. Ten percent of all people ages 18 to 64 have disabilities. In 2010, the employment-to-population ratio was 18.6% for people with disabilities. In short, workplaces across the country employ millions of workers with disabilities, yet many regrettably--and perhaps illegally--neglect the safety of some employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act, for example, requires that emergency action plans cover the measures that employers and employees take to ensure employee safety during emergencies. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the employment provisions of the ADA, indicates that a comprehensive emergency evacuation plan should provide for prompt and effective assistance to individuals who have conditions that may necessitate it.

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Get to Know Your Employees

One of the first steps you can take to ensure that all employees remain safe during an emergency is to identify possible emergencies that may occur at your facility. This should include natural occurrences such as tornadoes, floods and thunderstorms, along with occurrences such as acts of workplace violence or accidents.

From there, identify those who may need assistance during the emergencies identified. Although the ADA includes personal medical confidentiality provisions, these provisions include an exception that allows employers to share medical information with first aid and safety personnel.

Keep in mind that some employees may need assistance because of medical conditions that are not visually apparent. Others may have obvious disabilities or medical conditions but may not need assistance.

One way to identify those who may need assistance comes after making a job offer, but before employment begins. Ask candidates whether they will need assistance during an emergency. You should also periodically survey employees to determine if they will require assistance in an emergency, since individuals' circumstances may change.

Finally, ask employees with known disabilities if they will require assistance in the event of an emergency. Do not assume, however, that everyone with a disability will need assistance during an evacuation. For example, many individuals with vision impairments may prefer no assistance.

You will need to explain the purpose for requesting the information and make clear that such self-identification is voluntary and that the information will be kept confidential. Do not ask for an individual's entire medical history; employers are entitled only to the information necessary for them to provide assistance.

Do not forget about employees who are temporarily disabled. If someone is sporting a leg cast, for example, exiting the facility may require some help.

Other individuals that require consideration are pregnant women and those with heart or respiratory conditions.

Work Together

After identifying the appropriate employees, you should work with them; individuals with disabilities are generally in the best position to assess their particular needs. …

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