Accommodating employees with environmental sensitivities

Industrial environments, construction sites and other trade worksites are common places where workplace injuries can occur.Evaluating these environments with an eye toward physical accessibility will create safer work places for all employees.These environments should be considered based on their potential to pose barriers for people with disabilities, and their potential to create hazards which might cause illness or injury.Certain access barriers, such as inaccessible multi-level buildings and narrow doorways, are obvious.The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created under the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” OSHA’s safety and health standards—coupled with the efforts of employers, workers, safety and health professionals, unions and other worker advocates—have prevented countless work-related injuries, illnesses and deaths. Certain OSHA requirements intersect with employer obligations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Department of Labor (DOL), is also charged with enforcing a variety of whistleblower statutes and regulations.

Injuries and illness that arise from occupations may rise to the level of an ADA covered disability.

OSHA and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) provide general guidelines for developing emergency plans, and DOL’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) offers specific information for employers on considering the needs of employees with disabilities in an emergency.

Qualified individuals with disabilities who are capable of performing the essential functions of a position, with or without an accommodation, can rarely be considered a direct threat to their own or others’ safety at work.

Some OSHA required tests could result in the discovery of a previously undisclosed disability, or to a claim of discrimination from people who feel they were excluded from employment opportunities based on a disability.

The ADA places restrictions on the types and timing of testing allowed, which should be considered when engaging in required OSHA testing.

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