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According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 1 in 5 Canadians between 25-64 years of age have at least one disability. That means there are about 4 million adults experiencing limitations, many of which are not immediately apparent to others. Accommodating workers with these nonvisible disabilities is not just a legal requirement, but it also makes good business sense. Most accommodations are not costly, and lead to positive return on investment with a productive, committed and engaged employee.
Understanding nonvisible disabilities
Nonvisible disabilities refers to a wide range of limitations, from chronic pain to cognitive to neurological to mental, that are not immediately apparent to others. This can include learning disabilities such as dyslexia, mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder, and physical disorders like fibromyalgia and diabetes. What they have in common is that the disability is severe enough to limit people to some extent in their daily activities, and that includes the ability to work.
Take Talia, for example. She is a high contributor to her sales team, reliably delivering fresh ideas, engaging content, and sound market analyses. Talia accomplishes her tasks despite having to call in sick 1-2 days a month and experiencing pain over the course of sitting all day long. But she wonders how much longer she can do this. The back pain, cramps, and overwhelming discomfort from her endometriosis (a debilitating disorder involving abnormal growth of endometrial tissue) has her frustrated. "I feel so terrible on the inside but it doesn't show on the outside." She worries that her co-workers perceive her as being lazy or moody, when in fact, she is quietly suffering in pain.
When these disabilities are not obvious, the worker may be reluctant to reach out because they fear being discriminated against or stigmatized. The hashtag #InvisiblyDisabledLooksLike rose in popularity on social media to dispel the notion that disabilities are only physical, with thousands of people sharing photos and thoughts related to how their nonvisible disabilities have affected them. Despite growing awareness from these social campaigns and other efforts, workers can still feel misunderstood by others in that their pain and challenges are somehow not genuine because their symptoms are not readily visible.
What the law says
At the federal level discrimination is prohibited on the basis of any of the 13 grounds identified in section 2 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, including genetic characteristics and disability. For activities that are not federally regulated, the provinces and territories have their own anti-discrimination laws that apply.
Employers have a duty to accommodate on a case-by-case basis the employees who fall into these groups up to the point of undue hardship, taking into account health, safety and cost. If an employer does not know about a disability, then the duty to accommodate does not apply.
Aside from legal requirements, it makes good business sense for employers to reduce absenteeism, turnovers, presenteeism, and long-term disability rates and costs by supporting workers with nonvisible disabilities.
How to accommodate
When planning for accommodation or a return to work due to nonvisible disabilities, the guiding principles are very similar as those for a physical injury. The focus of the plan should be on the functional abilities of the worker, not the symptoms of the injury or illness, or the causes. If you have a return to work program, ensure that it will accommodate workers returning from nonvisible-related absences.
When planning a return to work or modifications to work:
As everyone is unique, there are many possible accommodations. Some involve flexible scheduling that allows time off for medical appointments, helps the worker prioritize work and activities, and fits their energy and concentration levels. The workspace may need to be changed in regards to noise, space, light and other ergonomic factors that may impact the workers' concentration and well-being. Does the worker have access to a private, quiet space if needed?
An employer may need to include additional job training for a worker with a learning disability. Provide a worker with social anxiety with advance notice of meetings, events and projects to help them prepare. Allow exemptions to workplace policies and rules if they make a positive difference for the worker - for instance, a worker may be permitted to take naps at work if their chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms would otherwise adversely affect their job performance.
Some additional keys to successful accommodation include:
A comprehensive accommodation plan should involve the worker, manager, human resources, any treating healthcare professionals and a union/professional association representative. Each party has a shared responsibility. Remember that employers only need to be aware of the functional limitations and not the actual diagnosis.
With input from her manager, human resources, and her doctor, Talia is now on a modified work schedule that allows her flexibility to cope with her symptoms and attend medical appointments as needed. She feels supported, motivated and valued for her strengths and not marginalized by her disability.
The Disability Management Self-Assessment (DMSA) tool, International Disability Management Standards Council
Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017, Statistics Canada
Duty to Accommodate: A General Process for Managers, Government of Canada
Return to Work fact sheet, CCOHS
Tips & Tools
There is no escaping mould. It is a natural part of our environment, and grows practically everywhere people live and work.
Mostly harmless to human health, mould plays a practical role in the outdoors - breaking down fallen trees and leaves. However, mould growth indoors can have harmful effects on both property and people. For some, the inhalation of the mould, its fragments, or its spores can lead to health problems or make certain health conditions worse.
Mould can appear on walls, floor coverings, windows, ventilation systems, and support beams that are likely to be moist or water damaged. It grows in warm and wet areas such as bathroom tubs, between tiles, and window frames. The growth of any visible mould inside spells a risk factor for health problems and is unacceptable.
In general, exposure to most types of moulds does not cause symptoms in healthy people but some moulds may be hazardous for those with allergies or other health issues. People who have asthma, bronchitis, hay fever, other allergies, uncontrolled diabetes or weakened immune systems, are more likely to react to mould.
The most common symptoms are runny nose, eye irritation, skin rash, cough, congestion and aggravation of asthma. People with serious allergies to moulds may have stronger reactions that include fever and shortness of breath. People with chronic illnesses, such as obstructive lung disease, may develop mould infections in their lungs.
Prevention takes awareness and effort, but is far less daunting than a mould remediation project which involves identifying and correcting the conditions that allowed the mould to grow and taking steps to properly remove mould-damaged materials. Prevention efforts should include building inspections, timely maintenance and the prompt repair of all plumbing and building structure leaks.
Reducing indoor moisture is the best method to reduce the possibility of indoor mould. Therefore it is important to first determine the source of the moisture, then eliminate the problem.
Mould prevention tips include:
These are tips for basic prevention. It is highly recommended that experts be consulted and trained remediators be engaged to handle mould contamination.
Evidence shows that employees who work for psychologically safe leaders are more likely to report higher job satisfaction and engagement, better workplace relationships, and better psychological well-being. The free Psychologically Safe Leader Assessment (PSLA) tool can help those in leadership roles to develop the skills to promote psychological health and safety in their workplace, and help their employees thrive. With the tool, leaders can assess the extent to which their strategies align with the factors in the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The assessment focuses on five key areas: communication and collaboration; social intelligence; problem solving and conflict management; security and safety; and fairness and equality. Individuals can take the assessment on their own for personal and confidential learning and development, or administrators can send the assessment to leaders on behalf of their organization. Direct reports can also submit confidential feedback about their perception of leadership strategies, to support a shared understanding. The assessment results provide insights and resources to help develop an action plan to improve psychologically safe leadership.
PSLA was developed by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and Dr. Joti Samra, with support from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
To take the assessment, visit psychologicallysafeleader.com
Health and Safety To Go
This month there are two new featured podcasts: Peer-to-Peer Support and Mental Health in the Workplace: An Interview with Steve Tizzard and Day of Mourning: Lisa Kadosa's Story.
Steve Tizzard, Radio Operator on the Hibernia Platform in the North Atlantic Ocean, shares his experience working in isolation, away from family and friends, and what catapulted him to champion a mental health peer-to-peer support program in his workplace.
The podcast runs 8:33 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Threads of Life speaker Lisa Kadosa shares her family's story of how a workplace tragedy impacted their lives and what she's doing now to spread awareness about prevention.
The podcast runs 9:48 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
CCOHS produces free monthly podcasts on a wide variety of topics designed to keep you current with information, tips, and insights into the health, safety, and well-being of working Canadians. You can download the audio segment to your computer or MP3 player and listen to it at your own convenience... or on the go!
As part of last week's Safety and Health Week festivities, CCOHS announced the winners of the 2019 Dick Martin Scholarship as well as the winners in the national Focus on Safety Youth Video Contest.
Dick Martin Occupational Health and Safety Scholarship Winners
Nancy Suranyi (Alberta) and Evan Hrycenko (Saskatchewan) will each be awarded $3,000. Additionally, their respective academic institutions, the University of Alberta and the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), will each receive $500.
The Dick Martin scholarships were created to support interest in and encourage the pursuit of, careers in the field of occupational health. Learn more about scholarship.
Three First Place Prizes Awarded in National Youth Video ContestThe Focus on Safety Youth Video Contest challenges youth across the country to use their creativity to produce an original video that can be used in social media to illustrate to younger workers the importance of working safely on the job.
The entries for the contest are comprised of the first place winners from the provincial and territorial contests which were held from September 2018 to April 2019. This year ten videos were entered into the national contest. The videos were evaluated by a panel of judges consisting of Sarah Wheelan from Threads of Life, Travis McLennon, a previous CCOHS Dick Martin Scholarship recipient, and Anne Tennier, CCOHS President and Chief Executive Officer.
For the first time in the history of the contest, the judges' scores led to a three-way tie for first place. As a result, CCOHS awarded three $2,000 first-place prizes to the winning student producers as well as a matching prize to each of their respective schools:
The winning videos were announced and shown at the national launch event for Safety and Health Week in Saint John, New Brunswick on May 6. CCOHS sponsors the national contest and provides financial support to the provincial and territorial contests.
The 2019 winners and links to all of the winning videos are posted on the CCOHS Young Workers Zone.
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The Health and Safety Report, a free monthly newsletter produced by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), provides information, advice, and resources that help support a safe and healthy work environment and the total well being of workers.
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