Disability Discrimination and Health and Safety at Work

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2004 National Disabled Members' Conference
23 July 2004
Carried as Amended

Conference welcomes guidance produced by the European Safety and Health Agency that says that health and safety issues should not be used as an excuse for not employing or not continuing to employ disabled people. Its factsheet adds that a workplace that is accessible and safe for disabled people is also safer and more accessible for all employees, clients and visitors. The Agency adds that safety and disability legislation should be used to facilitate the employment of disabled people, not exclude them. We also applaud the TUC initiative to train 35,000 trade union reps to ensure that employers do not use health and safety as an excuse to discriminate against disabled workers.

We also commend the Health and Safety Executive for commissioning research into levels of health and safety issues within the black population and publicising findings that black people are disproportionately affected by poor work-related health and safety practices.

Conference is concerned that health and safety continues to be used as justification for disability discrimination in the workplace. Our branches and regions have reported a wide range of examples of potential discrimination on grounds of disability and employers use of health and safety as a counter argument to introducing reasonable adjustments.

In addition the union is aware that a number of employers have failed to take adequate precautions to protect our members at work and they do not have policies or procedures to adequately support newly disabled workers returning to work after an injury. Our members face lost opportunities at work including training and career opportunities, reduced income and social exclusion.

We are particularly concerned that employers’ health and safety initiatives rarely consider issues of concern to disabled women. These include:

a)providing accessible facilities for disabled women and those women experiencing peri-menopausal symptoms;

b)arrangements that promote health well-being such as screening facilities for breast and other cancers within workplace arrangements are largely inaccessible to disabled women.

There is very little published research on the relationship between disabled people and health and safety problems. Studies regarding health and safety and gender identify a number of key triggers related to stressful characteristics of work, these may offer some parallels for disabled people as they are points that are often raised by disabled members. They include poor workplace communication, low levels of support for personal development, career stagnation and uncertainty, poor pay, job insecurity, low participation in decision-making, social or physical isolation, problems regarding the reliability, availability, suitability and maintenance of equipment and facilities and so on,

UNISON’s recent response to a Department of Work and Pensions consultation restated our interpretation of the social model with regard to rehabilitation; we believe that the workplace environment and workplace procedures should be subject to rehabilitation not the disabled person.

We believe that campaigning for improved legislation and negotiating good health and safety policies and procedures and taking initiatives that eradicate disability discrimination at work are also real incentives for workers to join our union and become involved as activists. Health and safety is a driving force in the bargaining agenda and may provide our activists with many opportunities to improve standards in employment conditions of the workforce as a whole.

Conference calls upon the National Disabled Members’ Committee to work with the National Health and Safety Committee and National Women’s Committee to:

1)issue guidance for branches to challenge actions based on health and safety issues that could be used to discriminate against disabled people;

2)encourage disabled members to become active as safety representatives, they are best placed to interpret disability issues on the health and safety agenda, and

3)ensure that UNISON Health and Safety courses include a disability perspective and are fully accessible to disabled trainee safety representatives;

4)urge the TUC to ensure that its training courses are fully accessible to trainee safety representatives.

5)lobby the Health and Safety Executive to monitor data on work-related health and safety malpractice in relation to the UK’s black population and acquired impairment.