Diversity and inclusion in workplace health and safety

Employers are responsible for the health and safety of staff, as outlined in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.

Employers who don't protect staff health, safety, and welfare can face hefty fines, legal claims, and even criminal prosecution.

When employers are made aware that a worker has a disability, they should ensure their Health and safety procedures are updated and adjusted to make sure any risk is covered.

With 4.4 million employed disabled people in the UK in 2021, workers with disabilities can face additional issues such as the ability to be alerted to danger, and mobility issues that can prevent easy evacuation in the event of a fire.

There are financial benefits in ensuring that employee health and safety is as inclusive as possible.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), slips, trips, and falls in the workplace cost employees £500 million in visible and hidden costs such as loss of productivity, and cost the NHS around £133 million.

An employers’ health and safety responsibilities

Employers are responsible for managing health and safety risks in the workplace and any tasks their employees carry out as part of their jobs, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.

Employers must identify risks and take steps to mitigate risks as far as it is reasonably practical.

This means balancing the risk against the measures needed mitigate it, in terms of cost, time, or effort.

This can be something as simple as having employees wear high-visibility clothing, installing flashing-light fire alarms, and introducing mandatory equipment safety checks.

The health and safety actions employers are responsible for include:

  • conducting risk assessments
  • providing accessible information about risks
  • consulting employees about potential safety risks
  • providing a comprehensive, accessible risk reporting process
  • providing training as required by law
  • appropriately responding to employee concerns
  • enforcing guidelines
  • providing suitable safety equipment.

Risk assessments

Risk assessments are an important part of workplace health and safety, and are a legal requirement.

However, according to the HSE, organisations do not have a legal requirement to carry out separate risk assessments tailored to disabled employees.

It is, however, recommended that measures are taken to reduce any risk to people with disabilities.

To make risk assessments as comprehensive as possible, and to avoid any extra cost and time performing additional assessments, it may be worth discussing the specific risks your disabled employees face to fully understand their situation and create a single, all-encompassing risk assessment.

Making reasonable adjustments

All employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for their disabled employees under the Equality Act 2010.

This ensures that disabled workers have the support and access they need to complete their work in the same way as their non-disabled colleagues.

Reasonable adjustments could include repositioning fire alarms and light switches at lower heights, installing accessibility ramps, ensuring emergency signs and safety labels are available in braille, and that safety training is accessible, such as ensuring audio description and subtitles in training videos.

Emergency planning

In the event of an emergency, it can be a good idea to have an emergency preparedness plan.

This plan should outline any potential risks, how they can be mitigated, what actions and equipment are in place in case of an emergency, and how to respond to an emergency.

Emergency equipment, such as fire alarms or flashing lights that non-disabled people rely on, may not be effective for employees with disabilities.

Consider assigning a person to guide a visually impaired employee or installing suitable fire alarms.

Inclusive feedback

Provide ways for people with disabilities to report potential issues, and ensure you keep an accurate and up-to-date accident log.

Regularly review reports and feedback, and act decisively if a risk to employee health is identified.

D&I health and safety support

There is support available to help disabled individuals succeed in the workplace.

The UK Government’s Access to Work grant scheme provides financial support to disabled individuals so they can afford working aids such as assistive technology, mental health advice, or transport to work if they cannot use public transport or travel alone.

This grant does not cover making reasonable adjustments but can provide recommendations so employers know what changes can be made.

Employers can also sign up to the Disability Confident employers scheme.

This scheme can help employers hire and retain disabled employees and help them progress their careers.

Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.

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