Teaching Workers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities about Safety and Health on the Job

Many US workers lack health and safety training and workplace injuries are a serious public health problem. Employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities may be at higher risk for being hurt at work. In this article, the team at the NIOSH Safe•Skilled•Ready Workforce Program discuss the importance of having a workplace safety curriculum!

Why Teach Workers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities about Safety and Health on the Job?

Workplace injuries are a serious public health problem. Employees with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) may be at higher risk for being hurt at work.1 Jobs performed by employees with IDD can be hazardous. Common work activities include light manufacturing, recycling, assembly, janitorial tasks, industrial laundries, landscaping services, and warehouse work. Almost all of these activities have higher-than-average injury rates.

Many U.S. workers lack health and safety training. Workers with IDD often have even fewer options for this training, particularly in a manner that meets their learning needs. A needs assessment conducted by the Labor Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley found almost no examples of these workers getting comprehensive health and safety training.2 When training does take place, it is typically a supervisor or job coach instructing what to do or not do with regard to a particular activity. Although this kind of instruction is important, it does not teach workers the skills they need to assess new environments. This includes problem-solving when the situation or task changes or when something unexpected happens. Workers need to learn and practice these skills in a safe environment where the instructor can teach them, and then they can learn from one another.

A Safety and Health Curriculum for Workers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities                                                   

One reason for the shortage of workplace health and safety training for workers with IDD has been the lack of a tailored curriculum for schools, support agencies, and employers. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the Labor Occupational Health Program at the University of California, Berkeley have published a curriculum to bridge this gap. The Staying Safe at Work curriculum helps workers with IDD learn how to stay safe while they do their jobs. Staying Safe at Work is a free six-lesson training program that teaches basic workplace safety and health knowledge and skills to young and older workers with IDD and students with disabilities. The six lessons include:  Introduction to Workplace Health and Safety, Looking for Job Hazards, Making the Job Safer, Staying Safe in an Emergency at Work, Your Health and Safety Rights and Responsibilities on the Job, and Speaking Up When There Is a Problem.

The curriculum can be used by supported employment agencies, community vocational rehabilitation programs, high school transition programs, and other organizations and companies that place or hire workers with IDD. The curriculum helps teach students or employees the basic job safety and health skills that all workers need. The curriculum uses highly interactive and fun learning activities to teach workplace safety and health skills, which are general, transferable, and can apply across all jobs and industries.

If you hire, place, or work with individuals with IDD, the team at the Safe•Skilled•Ready Workforce Program would like to hear how you have approached workplace safety and health training. Please send your comments to ssrw@cdc.gov.

By:
Robin Dewey, MPH, is Coordinator of Public Programs, Labor Occupational Health Program, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.
Rebecca Guerin, PhD, CHES, is Coordinator of the NIOSH Safe•Skilled•Ready Workforce Program.
Andrea Okun, DrPH, is Co-coordinator of the NIOSH Safe•Skilled•Ready Workforce Program.

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References

  1. BLS [2016]. Table SNR05. Incidence rate and number of nonfatal occupational injuries by industry and ownership, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/ostb4351.pdf. Accessed July 28, 2016.
  2. Dewey R [2006]. Promoting the health and safety of individuals with developmental disabilities employed in mainstream settings: report and recommendations to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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