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Sleuthing Out Safe Disability Accommodations: Identifying a “Direct Threat”

There may be a point at which a worker cannot do a job safely because of a disability. A worker with an intellectual disability will probably never be qualified to run heavy machinery. But how can you determine when a worker and a job combine to create a significant risk of substantial harm to the worker or to others? How can you determine what those jobs and conditions might be?

When dealing with issues of disability, reasonable accommodation, and nondiscrimination, one of the most critical things you can do is a job analysis. Job analyses identify the essential tasks that a worker must be able to perform to do a job. Work together with your human resources personnel to ensure that job analyses also define what is required for a worker to safely do the job.

Identifying the Job’s Requirements

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) suggests that employers consider these factors when trying to determine whether an individual’s disability or chronic health condition would cause him or her to pose a “direct threat”—a significant risk of substantial harm—to oneself or to others when doing a given job:

  • The duration of the risk involved,
  • The nature and severity of the potential harm,
  • The likelihood the potential harm will occur,

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    • The imminence of the potential harm, and
    • The availability of a reasonable accommodation that might reduce or eliminate the risk.

As an example, the EEOC cites the case of an employee with a hearing impairment who wished to be trained to operate a forklift in a large hardware store. Forklift operators at the store are required, for safety reasons, to be able to communicate with a spotter. The employee requested that a vibrating bracelet be provided as an accommodation. During training, the worker discovered that the bracelet’s vibration was indistinguishable from the forklift’s vibration. Lacking a workable accommodation, the worker was not certified to operate the forklift.


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Be Accommodating; Be Safe

Some simple accommodations have made it possible for disabled workers to do things their employers didn’t think possible. BLR® offers a simple accommodation that can help you to do your job even better, too: Safety.BLR.com®.

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