The Equality Act 2010 became law in October 2010 and replaces the Disability discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. The Equality Act covers nine 'protected characteristics' these are: Age, Disability, Gender reassignment, Marriage and civil partnership, Pregnancy and maternity, Race, Religion and belief, Sex and Sexual orientation. More information on the Act can be found on the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) website.
For health and safety purposes, equality is concerned with breaking down the barriers that currently block opportunities for certain groups of people in the workplace, aiming to identify and minimise the barriers that exclude people and to take action to achieve equal access to all aspects of work for everyone. Eliminating discrimination is important in achieving equality, since it is not just the physical environment or poor policies that prevent equality from being achieved but also ways of working, attitudes and stereotypes about different groups of people.
Diversity is about recognising, valuing and taking account of people's different backgrounds, knowledge, skills, and experiences, and encouraging and using those differences to create a productive and effective workforce.
The workforce and working patterns are changing. The working population is getting older and there are more women and people from ethnic minorities at work.
Everyone has the right to be treated fairly at work and to be free of discrimination on grounds of age, race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, pregnancy and maternity, gender reassignment, or belief.
Many employers have found that making adaptations to their working practices to accommodate a diverse workforce makes good business sense. It makes their business more attractive to both potential employees and customers and helps them recruit and retain the best people. This is not only good business sense but helps them meet the requirements of legislation.
Some provisions that have helped in this respect are:
Health and safety should never be used as a false excuse to justify discriminatory action.
There is a lot of advice available to employers which helps to dispel some of the myths around health and safety in the workplace. For further information please see our pages on vulnerable workers and HSE guidance on risk assessments.
Employers should make sure they communicate messages about risk in a way that their employees understand. Some things to think about are language, use of pictures, colour, font sizes or format.