Health and safety is sometimes used as an excuse to justify discrimination against disabled workers. This should not happen.
There are no health and safety regulations specific to disabled people only. The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers to protect all workers from the risk of injury or harm at work, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes those who may be affected by their work activities.
Under health and safety law, every employer must ensure the health and safety of all their employees, whether they have a disability or not, so far as reasonably practicable This means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the real risk in terms of money, time or trouble. However, you do not need to take action if it would be grossly disproportionate to the level of risk. .
Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act came into force in October 2010, providing a modern, single legal framework with clear, streamlined law to tackle disadvantage and discrimination more effectively.
It is discrimination to treat a disabled person unfavourably because of something connected with their disability. This type of discrimination is unlawful where the employer knows, or could reasonably be expected to know, that the person has a disability.
Definition of a disability
Under the Equality Act 2010, the definition of a disability is a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on someone's ability to do normal daily activities.
- Substantial is more than minor or trivial. For example, it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task like getting dressed.
- Long-term means 12 months or more. For example, a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection.
There are special rules about recurring or fluctuating conditions, for example arthritis (see link below).
Equality law recognises that bringing about equality for disabled people may mean changing the way employment is structured, the removal of physical barriers and/or providing extra support for a disabled worker. This is the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
The aim of the duty is to make sure that, as far as is reasonable, a disabled worker has the same access to everything that is involved in doing and keeping a job as a non-disabled person.
Public sector equality duty
The public sector equality duty (section 149 of the Equality Act) applies to public bodies and those carrying out public functions. It supports good decision-making by ensuring public bodies consider how different people will be affected by their activities. It also helps them to deliver policies and services which are efficient and effective, accessible to all, and which meet different people's needs.
The equality duty requires public bodies to have due regard to the need to:
- eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct prohibited by the Act;
- advance equality of opportunity between people who are covered under the equality act and people who are not;
- foster good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and people who do not share it.
Having due regard means consciously thinking about the three aims of the equality duty as part of the process of decision making, including the provision of a robust health and safety management system.