3.4.5 Accommodating persons with disabilities in the laboratory Background

The range of disabilities that can impact a person is quite extensive. This makes it very difficult to find suitable solutions that would enable the performance of laboratory work in all cases or to formulate generally applicable rules. Modifications can be made, for example structural ones; however, which modifications are necessary and how extensive they need to be must be planned well in advance. In general, it will be necessary to carefully consider each case individually. There will certainly be cases in which the workplace can be retrofitted with little effort and expense to ensure safety at the workplace for a person with disabilities, but in other cases, or if a person has several disabilities, this may seem very difficult or even impossible.

Persons with disabilities can carry out activities in laboratories without endangering either themselves or others if certain conditions are met. Appropriate measures are to be identified and documented when carrying out the hazard assessment; the assessment must be tailored to reflect the special circumstances of the case in question. This is also in the event of a possible later disability, for example disease, necessary. The feasibility, practicability and effectiveness of the necessary organizational measures as well as the ability of all persons to cooperate must be considered.

An important component of any laboratory safety plan is the prompt recognition of potentially dangerous situations by the persons – with and without disabilities – working in the laboratory to ensure that they can react quickly enough to prevent an accident or adverse health effects.

Should the presence of persons with disabilities in the laboratory markedly curtail the effectiveness of this plan, different methods must be implemented to achieve the required level of safety. However, this is not always possible without endangering the health of the person with disabilities or that of other people in the laboratory.
A number of possible solutions are available that need to be assessed for their feasibility in the case in question. The hazard assessment must therefore evaluate whether the following requirements are met:

  • In the event of a dangerous situation, would the persons be able to rescue themselves or be rescued by others at any time?
  • Can hazards and dangerous situations be recognised reliably and in time (colour recognition, labels, sounds and noises, alarm signals, etc.)?
  • Is safety equipment readily accessible at all times (the criteria include the accessibility and reachability of emergency stop equipment, the accessibility and efficacy of emergency showers and alarm devices, etc.)?
  • Has the risk of hazards to other persons been eliminated, such as those arising from unexpected reactions or the restricted physical abilities of persons with disabilities? (Other persons include both other employees working in the laboratory as well as third parties such as service staff or guests).
  • Has everyone understood the instructions given by the laboratory manager or by safety experts by order of the manager?

In general, these questions can only be answered in collaboration with an expert for occupational safety. These include occupational safety officers and occupational physicians, union representatives (for example works councils), the statutory accident insurance organisations and other advisory bodies. It is recommended that the persons with disabilities help decide on the best course of action for meeting safety requirements. The persons providing guidance must have sufficient know-how in this area.

Examples of various measures are provided below. Depending on the respective disability, their implementation may be necessary in addition to other general safety measures. Modifications may have to be made depending on the specific conditions that are found in the respective laboratory. Technical and structural measures

  • Structural modifications: access and evacuation routes (for example: ramps for wheelchair users, walkways without thresholds and steps, handrails for stairs and corridors for persons with restricted mobility, grab handles and door openers) and accessibility and usability of lifts, staff rooms and sanitary facilities
  • Escape and evacuation routes and office and laboratory doors of sufficient width and power-operated door openers (doors need to open in the direction of escape)
  • Furnishings modified for the respective disability
  • Purchase of assistive equipment
  • Devices and equipment, in particular safety equipment (emergency stop switches and alarm buttons, emergency showers and actuating elements, fire extinguishers, light switches, telephones, etc.) must be recognisable, accessible and easy to operate at all times. Ergonomic design principles must be observed.
  • The person with disabilities must be able to quickly and clearly perceive all acoustic, visual and olfactory alarm signals and other safety information. Should a particular type of broadcasting channel be ineffective in a specific case, the signals must be relayed using an alternative form of communication, for example via a visual alarm that is activated together with an acoustic signal. Organisational measures

  • Adjustment of working hours, with consideration taken of the special issues that may arise for persons working alone
  • Adjustment of the job description with consideration taken of the capability in question
  • Assignment or development of a workplace that is easier both to reach and to leave in the event of an emergency evacuation and better meets the requirements of the facility
  • Taking into consideration leaves of absence, for example for rehabilitation measures
  • Operating instructions, instructions, plans, manuals and notices that are tailored to the specific situation
  • Availability of assistance for certain tasks by appropriate and specially trained persons
  • Availability of a sufficient number of assistants who have been outfitted with the proper equipment in the event of an evacuation
  • Regular drills and training, in particular to practice evacuating the facility
  • Instructional and training sessions to promote understanding on all sides, for example to enable persons without mobility problems to learn how to navigate around the laboratory in a wheelchair and identify potential problem areas
  • If possible, designing the practical laboratory work that is carried out to fulfil the requirements of a traineeship or university degree programme in such a way as to avoid exposing persons with disabilities to additional hazards, for example by reducing the quantity of substance used or by substituting hazardous substances without having an effect on the success of the learning process
  • Transfer of individual duties to other persons. In the case of a professional training or university degree programme, this must be done without jeopardizing the acquisition and understanding of the course content and the required skills Personal protective measures

Appropriate personal protective equipment, for example laboratory coats for persons in wheelchairs that provide as much coverage as those worn by a standing individual. At the same time, it is imperative that the coats can be removed without delay in the event of contamination or fire (as the effectiveness of emergency showers has yet to be evaluated for persons in wheelchairs, other measures should be taken to minimize the risk of hazards that would necessitate their use).

Mobile communication devices carried by and accessible to the person at all times are required, to ensure that the person can be notified of an emergency at all workplaces and in all areas of the building or premises (for example: mobile phones, walkie-talkies, vibrating alarms, etc.).