Persons with special needs may include the following groups:
- Pregnant employees, employees who have recently given birth or who are breast feeding.
- Individuals who suffer from medical conditions.
- Individuals who are visually, aurally or mobility impaired.
- Young Persons/Persons of an advanced age.
Persons in the above categories require special consideration when involved in certain tasks, activities or potentially hazardous work/workplace environments that would put their safety, health & welfare at risk. Persons with special needs are considered by legislation to be a vulnerable group which by virtue of the nature of certain types of work and their special needs, may expose said persons to risks in the workplace, which ordinarily may not impact on the general work population.
The university as an employer and its constituent departments, have a legal duty of care to all categories of employees and students, but this becomes more salient for persons with special needs in any of the above groups. To discharge the requirements of legislation, depts./centres/units must assess the risks to all employees, including any young workers and sdo what is reasonably practicable to control those risks.
As detailed in Section 503 Statutory Responsibilities, it is mandatory that hazards must be identified, risks be assessed and safeguards put in place, for all workplace activities and environments. This responsibility is vested in Heads of Dept. as per sections 502 and 504. Obviously the circumstances in each case will determine the necessary action and special provisions must be made within each department/unit/centre for staff members or students with special needs. This may necessitate special modifications to buildings or washrooms. Facilities for accessing lectures or carrying out study/research or provision of student services may also have to be modified or delivered at alternative locations, for people with special needs.
In the particular case of emergency situations e.g. requiring the evacuation of a building in the event of fire, departments must make specific arrangements, in advance for such persons in conjunction with the Buildings Officer, the relevant Services Supervisor and the College Fire Consultant. The procedures made and any arrangements made involving designated dept. staff and location of specialist equipment such as evacuation chairs should be detailed in the Department/Unit/Centre Fire Evacuation Plan.
Particular attention should be given to access/egress arrangements for persons with visual, aural or mobility impairments ? especially where lectures, seminars, practicals and field trips are being scheduled. These matters should be considered in detail by the Head of Department/Unit/Centre, in consultation with others such as the Buildings Officer and the General Services Officer etc.
- Pregnant employees, employees who have recently given birth or who are breast feeding ()
The Safety, Health & Welfare at Work (Pregnant Employees etc.) Regulations 1994 lay down specific requirements in addition to the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work Act 1989 and the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work (General Applications) Regulations, 1993.
These Regulations provide protection to female employees during pregnancy, after recently giving birth or during periods of breast-feeding, by outlining the health and safety management procedures to be in place. The general hazards that persons in this condition must not be exposed to and for which risk assessments () must be carried out are:
- Physical hazards ? including shocks, vibration, handling loads, noise, movement and postures which give rise to excessive fatigue etc.
- Ionising and non-ionising radiation.
- Chemicals ? including cancer causing agents, anti-cancer drugs and carbon monoxide.
- Biological agents ? including bacteria, viruses etc.
Hazards specific to pregnancy and breast-feeding include:
- Pressurisation chambers.
- Rubella unless adequate immunised.
- Lead and lead substances.
- Underground mine work.
N.B. The regulations only apply when the employee notifies her employer that she is pregnant, after recently given birth or is breast-feeding and provides the appropriate medical certificate. Other Regulations that also are relevant are the Maternity Protection Act, Currrent Edition; European Communities (Social Welfare) Regulations, 1994; the Maternity Protection (Health and Safety Leave certification) Regulations Currrent Edition.
In the case of Pregnant employees, employees who have recently given birth or who are breast feeding, special precautions are needed for her to that of the developing child. Guidance for this is given in the Health & Safety Authority booklet ? A Guide to the Safety, Health & Welfare at Work (Pregnant Employees etc.) Regulations 1994.
Note () The assessment forms contained in Document No.3 should be utilised by depts. for assessing the risks to pregnant employees etc., with respect to exposure to Chemicals or Biological Agents and arising from manual lifting or VDU workstations.
- Individuals who suffer from medical conditions
Persons who are known to suffer from any medical condition should not be exposed to situations or carry out certain tasks which may increase the risk to health and safety. In particular, conditions like allergies, asthma or hypersensitivity?s haemophilia and epilepsy, which may present serious risks in chemical or biological laboratories and also where work with animals or plants is carried out.
Allergies, Asthma and Hypersensitivity ()
An individual may be hypersensitive to certain substances, either in the vapour, liquid or solid state. Health care/Lab workers may also develop allergies to powdered Latex gloves. A number of compounds may cause irritant or allergic dermatitis if brought into contact with the skin (often after repeated contact). Compounds which are frequently responsible for dermatitis include hydrocarbons (including chlorinated and nitro-chlorinated compounds), and phenolic groups of compounds. Special precautions are required: substitute e.g. avoid skin contact, wear powder free surgical gloves, use barrier cream, and local exhaust ventilation, carry out work in good fume cupboards, keep skin clean, wash and dry skin properly, avoid using heavy duty or aggressive cleaning agents for cleaning hands, replace skins natural oil with a good hand cream.
People who suffer from asthma, severe hay-fever or rhinitis may be put at risk or may put themselves at risk by working in dusty environments e.g. concrete labs, demolition work or working in areas with known respiratory sensitisers (chemicals with an R42 risk phrase) or occupational asthma agents e.g. rosin in soldering flux, proteolytic enzymes, platinum salts, isocyanates, dust from flour/grain, animal houses, aviaries/bird lofts, green houses (pollens) or sawing red cedar wood dust in wood-working shops. Those who work with animals, especially rodents, may become sensitive to airborne particles in animal houses and micro-organisms and fungal spores in animal excreta and on their skin. Anyone who has a pre-existing condition which may be aggravated by their work area or who considers they are developing an allergy to a chemical, animal, plant or other agent should seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity. (In this context the Director of Human Resources may be contacted with a view to seeking a referral to the College?s Occupational Health Physician). N.B. Departments who?s work involve known occupational health risks are legally required to ensure that job specific pre-employment health surveillance is undertaken to identify persons whose health may be put at risk by placement in such environments. Appropriate measures must be taken to protect the individuals health, which would normally include substitution, enclosure and ventilation, removing the person from the sensitisers or vice versa . (Read in conjunction with Section 1300 Occupational Health and Health Surveillance).
Persons who suffer from epilepsy are not barred from working in laboratories or workshops but it is essential that the supervisor and those with whom they work should be aware of their disability and know how to deal with an attack.
Any person who suffers from haemophilia should inform their superior or demonstrator of the fact at the earliest opportunity.
There may be other medical conditions e.g. back problems, heart or chest problems or persons with high-risk immuno-deficiences, which may need special consideration in relation to work assignments or in relation to first aid response, so that the correct measures/precautions are put in place. In all cases, where persons are aware or discover that they are suffering from any such medical condition, they have a duty to inform their superiors of the situation. This confidential knowledge can not be used to diminish the person?s self-esteem or affect their position in the workplace.
- Individuals who have visual, aural or mobility impairments.
Every facility should be made available to assist such persons and eliminate exposure to hazardous situations that might endanger their health and safety. This is fully outlined in the evacuation procedures required in emergency situations [see Document No.2 ? Section 18.2 Fire & Other Emergencies]. Equally it is incumbent that personnel with any of the above impairments, should not be assigned tasks that present significant risks to them due to their impairment and that supervisors are aware of their responsibilities.
Colour Blindness ()
Everyone needs to be aware of any abnormality in their colour vision. This condition could have significance where a person is involved with electrical wiring or working in a boiler house or control room, where the identification of colours may be important for personal safety. Any abnormality should be reported to the supervisor or demonstrator so that steps may be taken to overcome any resultant difficulties.
- Young Persons/Persons of an advanced age ()
It is axiomatic that persons in this category are not exposed to hazardous situations or required to perform tasks that would put them at risk. For older personnel the hazards may be physical i.e. too strenuous, heights, confined places or extremes of temperature. In addition they may suffer from a medical condition outlined previously.
Young persons are seen as being particularly at risk because of their possible lack awareness of existing or potential hazards, immaturity and inexperience. The Safety, Health & Welfare at Work (Children & Young Persons) Regulations, 1998, has the effect of designating young persons, on work experience, as employees for the purposes of health & safety legislation.
N.B. Under the Regulations, a young person is defined as having reached 16 years or the school leaving age (whichever is the higher) but is less that 18 years.