At one time, workers with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDDs) who were capable of working did so in sheltered workshop-type environments—but that is changing. Employers in many industries now hire workers with intellectual or developmental disabilities to work in integrated environments. These workers may not be able to complete the same training courses as other workers with respect to occupational safety and health, but targeted training can help them develop the skill sets they need to stay safe, even if they have to deal with workplace changes or unexpected situations.
In September 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a curriculum specifically designed to address the needs of this worker population. The six training objectives established by the curriculum give these workers a basic, concrete understanding of how to recognize hazardous situations and how to problem solve appropriately when the situation or task changes or when something unexpected happens. The NIOSH curriculum sets these training goals for workers with IDD:
- Recognize and Understand the Importance of Workplace Hazards
Workers with IDD need to understand how a work-related injury can affect their lives and their families. They also need to grasp that work-related injuries and illnesses are predictable and can be prevented.
- Identify Common Workplace Hazards
Workers with IDD often have difficulty with abstract concepts, so they need to have a concrete understanding of the types of hazards that exist in the workplace and how to recognize them. Key health and safety issues for this worker population include machinery; vehicles; electrical hazards; and exposure to blood, noise, chemicals, stress, and ergonomic hazards, which can all be presented in concrete form.
- Understand How to Reduce Risk
Workers with IDD can learn to connect hazards and hazard controls, like machine guards or personal protective equipment (PPE). They can be presented with examples of specific hazards and asked to think of ways to control those hazards or reduce the risks. They can understand how specific hazard controls protect them in the workplace.
- Know How to React in an Emergency
Even if all of the other hazards they may be exposed to are adequately controlled, workers with IDD may face emergencies at work right alongside their nondisabled coworkers. They need to know how to recognize an emergency and must be trained in emergency procedures.
- Know their Safety-Related Rights and Responsibilities at Work
Workers with IDD, just like all workers, need to know (and are generally capable of understanding) that they are responsible for knowing and following all safety and health rules and safe work practices, reporting all injuries, using the safety gear that’s provided for them, and reporting any unsafe conditions that they see. Workers under the age of 18 also need a basic familiarity with youth labor laws.
- Know Whom to Talk to About Problems at Work
Once they know how to identify workplace hazards or other safety-related problems, like injuries, workers with IDD need to be specifically instructed in what to do with that information. They should be taught to speak to a supervisor, job coach, or other individual who is responsible for solving problems they cannot solve for themselves and addressing situations that they are not equipped to handle.
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