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Category: Miscellaneous
Volume: 25
Issue: 2
Article No.: 3985

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SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Safety on the Job and Complying with the Americans With Disabilities Act

Do you or someone you know have a disability? The purpose this article is to bring your attention as an employer to the requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I recently was asked to work as a safety expert in a case where a potential employee was not hired because she was deaf.

When I took on this case, I stated to the potential client that I was in favor of hiring and/or placing people with disabilities on the job and felt that with reasonable accommodation, most people with disabilities could be placed for employment. I also explained to my new client that there are also times when this could not be achieved and I would never place a worker or company at risk.

In researching and preparing my case report, I had the opportunity to visit the United States Equal Employment Commissions website (www.EEOC.GOV) and reviewed the laws of the United States and especially researched the section referring to the hiring and placing of employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Fact: Some 43,000,000 Americans have one or more physical or mental disabilities and this number is increasing as the population as a whole is growing older. Historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities and despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem.

The Americans With Disabilities Act

In general, with regard to employment, the act provides that employers may not discriminate in any aspect of employment, including recruitment, hiring, discipline, wages, benefits, etc., against any qualified individual with a disabil-ity who can perform the essential functions of a position with or without reasonable accommodation and without undue hardship placed upon the employer. Some definitions:


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, such as seeing, hearing, performing tasks, learning, etc., or who has a record of or is regarded as having such a disability but who is otherwise qualified and can perform the essential functions of a position with or without an accommodation.

Who is Considered an Employer?

In general, the term “employer” means a company with 15 or more employees.

Qualified Individual With A Disability

A qualified individual with a disability is a person who meets legitimate skill, experience, education or other requirements of a position and who can perform the essential functions of the position with or without reasonable accommodation. For example, an otherwise qualified candi-date who is wheelchair-bound is seeking a computer input position. The computer work, which is 90% of the day’s work, would be considered the “essential function” for which the candidate is qualified with perhaps an accommodation of a higher desk to accommodate their wheelchair.

Reasonable Accommodation

The Act requires that employers make reasonable accommodations for current and potential employees. Some of the most common accommodations include shifting work schedules to allow for special transportation needs, raising work stations on blocks to accommodate chairs or having interview questions written out to accommodate a deaf applicant. The government does not require that accommodations be the most expensive solutions to the problem. Raising a computer workstation on blocks to fit a wheel-chair is considered an accommodation just as buying an expensive hydraulic lifting workstation would be. Adding a secure plywood ramp is as acceptable as digging up concrete stairs and repouring them.

Undue Hardship

An important part of the Act for employers is the term undue hardship. In general, the term “undue hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense. In the example above of the computer input worker, additional occasional work, such as filing, could be reasonably assigned to other workers without an undue hardship. If however, the computer work was 40% of the job and filing in high and low places inaccessible to a wheelchair-bound person were the majority of the work, accommodating this person might cause an undue hardship in reassigning workloads or restructuring the filing system to accommodate the person.

Taken into consideration when reviewing the reasonableness of an accommodation and/or undue hardship are the nature and cost of the accommodation, the financial resources of the company overall and the effectiveness of the accommodation.

What do the Americans with Disabilities Act and Safety have in common? Everything: the Occupational Safety & Health Act (OSHA) still gives the best guidance when deciding if your place of employment is safe for all employees. Remember the OSHA laws state this: “Each employer shall furnish to each employee, employment, and a place of employment that is free from recognized dangers that are causing or likely to cause serious physical harm.” The OSHA laws require you as an employer to conduct an analysis of your work areas to discover any work environments that are unsafe and then have a plan in place to make them safe.

For more detailed information and technical assistance on the ADA, go to or call 800-514-0301.

One last thing before I go, I would like each employer to visit the following site Canada has started a program to have the youths of that country understand safety before going out to the workforce. Take a look and then let me know if you will help me establish the program here in the United States and in other countries.

For more information, click on the author biography at the top of this page.

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