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Karima is a new hire in the marketing department of a large tech company. Although traditional interview settings are challenging for her, she made a great impression on the interview panel with her unique approach to problem solving and her extensive knowledge of the company’s niche. When asked if there was anything else she wanted the panel to know, Karima hesitated. Would disclosing her ADHD and autism put off the hiring manager?
“That’s not a problem,” her manager said. “We actually pride ourselves on being a neurodiverse organization!”
Toward the end of her first week, Karima is feeling welcomed by her coworkers but finds the open office environment to be overstimulating and a bit chaotic. She wants to demonstrate that she can hyperfocus on projects but finds it hard to do due to nearby conversations and noises.
Knowing that Karima prefers written communication instead of face-to-face, a message pops up on her computer from Marisol, her manager. “How are you settling in, Karima? Is there anything we can tweak to make your working environment better for you?”
Our collective understanding of what it means to be neurodivergent is growing. Employers are recognizing that a neurodiverse workforce can improve workplace productivity and profitability if they take the time to address specific needs and set workers up for success.
What is neurodiversity?
The term “neurodiversity” was coined in 1998 by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, to reflect that being neuro-atypical is simply a reflection of the natural variations of the human genome. These variations should be understood and accommodated.
In general terms, a neurodivergent worker is one whose brain functions differently than a neurotypical person. Neurodiversity encompasses a number of conditions but those most often included are autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Tourette syndrome, dyslexia (challenges with reading and spelling), dyscalculia (challenges with numbers) or dyspraxia (challenges coordinating physical movements, including those required for speech).
What does this look like in the workplace? It can vary, but often workers on the autism spectrum may be sensitive to light or noise and have difficulty connecting with colleagues and managers. ADHD can present physically, such as fidgeting or an inability to sit still, and mentally, in the form of overthinking or impostor syndrome (a belief someone holds that they are not deserving of achievements or roles they have earned). People with attention deficit disorder have trouble with time management and concentration. They can also be impulsive and have trouble with working memory.
Despite these challenges, neurodiverse workers have unique talents that give their organizations a competitive advantage. Workers with ADHD may struggle with organization but are often creative and collegial, coming up with innovative ideas in a group setting and bringing unique energy to a brainstorm. Many can hyperfocus on projects they’re passionate about but need explicit deadlines for when each aspect of the work should be completed. Workers on the autism spectrum sometimes struggle with eye contact or communication but may be meticulous with details and indispensable to projects that require a high degree of precision and accuracy.
Setting neurodiverse workers up for success
A growing number of multinational corporations and tech companies are recognizing the unique talents of neurodivergent workers, with some organizations creating dedicated programs to hire them. To help make your workplace more inclusive and welcoming and to challenge stereotypes, start by learning about the different types of neurodiversity and what they look like on a spectrum. Take a look at your hiring process. Are you unintentionally excluding great candidates based on an evaluation of their interpersonal or communication skills? Consult with your HR department to discuss how you can encourage success among neurodivergent applicants. Bringing in experts to help educate workers and managers helps ensure that neurodivergent workers have understanding and support from their colleagues.
When it comes to open office environments, a dedicated quiet space with natural light for focused work can give a neurodivergent worker some refuge from the sensory overload they may feel in their desk area. Employers can also provide technology and tools, such as noise cancelling headphones or software to assist with scheduling and task management. Hybrid work options can also be beneficial, balancing time in the office to collaborate and foster community with time at home to focus without bright lights, scents, and noise.
Back at the open office, Karima takes a long sip of her water and responds.
“Hi Marisol, I’m feeling good, thanks for asking! I am loving the community feel here in the office, and everyone has been welcoming and kind. But I’m a bit overwhelmed by the noise and lights. Is there a quieter spot I can work in when I need to focus?”
“Ah, I understand. There are a few, I can show you. We can also look at setting you up to work remotely for a couple days each week. I’ll come by your desk after lunch and let’s discuss.”
No two neurodivergent workers are the same, so be proactive in asking and listening to workers about how to best set them up for success.
Tips & Tools
Ammonia is a toxic chemical with many applications. It is found in fertilizers, cleaning products, and as a refrigerant in arenas, ice factories and refrigeration facilities.
A colourless gas at room temperature and normal pressure, ammonia can be fatal to workers when exposed to a high concentration. When inhaled in high concentrations ammonia gas affects the upper respiratory system and can lead to asphyxiation.
As a liquefied gas, ammonia evaporates quickly when released from a compressed gas cylinder and can cause frostbite when it contacts skin. Liquified ammonia may also form ammonia fog that remains close to the ground, creating dangerous conditions in closed or poorly ventilated spaces.
At low concentrations, ammonia is highly corrosive and can cause severe skin burns, respiratory irritation, and eye damage.
The distinct and powerful smell usually makes ammonia easy to identify at very low concentrations in the air, but repeated exposure reduces your ability to smell the gas, even when levels are high. The most effective way to manage the risk of exposure to ammonia is to eliminate the source of exposure. If that's not possible, there are other risk controls to use.
Tips to reduce the risks
If there's an ammonia leak, notify a supervisor immediately. Clear the area and begin emergency procedures.
CCOHS releases new podcasts each month to help you stay current and informed on workplace health, safety, and well-being in Canada.
New Podcast: Disconnecting from Work
Being able to fully disconnect from work is key to a healthy, happy, and productive workplace. In this episode, we discuss what employers and workers can each do to help.
Podcast runs: 5:51 minutes Listen to the podcast now.
Encore Podcast: Heat Stress and Your Health
Workers who are exposed to extreme heat or work in hot environments may be at increased risk of heat stress. CCOHS explains the different illnesses caused by heat stress and offers tips for prevention.
The podcast runs 8:18 minutes. Listen to the podcast now.
Occupational health and safety laws are always evolving. This month’s highlights include changes to the Canada Labour Code, the New Brunswick Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Nova Scotia Workplace Health and Safety Regulations, and the Quebec Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (Canada Labour Code, Part II): SOR/2022-94 amends the respiratory protection provisions to allow CSA Group certified equipment to be provided as an alternative to NIOSH certified equipment in federally regulated workplaces, where there is a risk of injury or disease due to exposure to an airborne hazardous substance and the equipment does not provide air. Repeals and replaces the definition for “oxygen deficient atmosphere” in section 1.2; replaces subsection 12.02(2), subsections 12.13(1) and (2), paragraph 12.13(3)(a), subparagraphs 12.13(3)(b)(i) and (ii) and, subsection 12.13(4); and adds new Section 12.13.1.
General Regulation (Occupational Health and Safety Act): N.B. Reg. 2022-27 makes numerous substantial changes to the regulation including amendments to sections regarding indoor air quality, ventilation, air contaminants, asbestos, vehicles, confined space, and logging and silviculture operations among others. References to and definitions of “threshold limit value” have been replaced with “occupational exposure limit”. References to “work sites” have been replaced with “work areas”. Sections have been re-written to include gender-neutral pronouns.
Workplace Health and Safety Regulations (Occupational Health and Safety Act): N.S. Reg. 43/2022 came into force 13/06/22, applying amendments that introduce various provisions respecting first aid, found across new Sections 4.1 to 4.20. N.S. Reg. 42/2022 came into force 13/06/22, repealing the Occupational Health and Safety First Aid Regulations.
Act respecting occupational health and safety: The first grouping of 2021, c. 27 amendments to the Act are now in force, applying numerous changes including expanding requirements for the “physical well-being” of workers to include “physical and mental”, expanding the definition of student workers, addition of sections specific to teleworkers, addition of a section requiring an employer to ensure protection of a worker exposed to physical or psychological violence, and major structural and functional changes to the Commission de la Santé et la Sécurité du Travail among others.
For more information regarding recent regulatory changes CCOHS offers a paid subscription service, Canadian enviroOSH Legislation plus Standards, that provides a collection of all the health, safety, and environmental legislation you need in one location.
If you are a woman enrolled in a post-secondary occupational health and safety program, you may be eligible to win a $3,000 scholarship from CCOHS.
The Chad Bradley Scholarship is offered to women enrolled in either a full-time or part-time health and safety related program leading to an occupational health and safety certificate, diploma, or degree at an accredited college or university in Canada.
Not sure if your course or program is eligible? Qualifying programs include occupational or industrial health and safety, industrial hygiene, safety management or other related safety degree program.
The entry deadline is August 31, 2022, at 11:59 p.m. EDT and the winner will be announced in the fall.
Learn more about the scholarship and how to apply: www.ccohs.ca/scholarships.
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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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