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How People with Disabilities Improve Your Company's Safety

Adding Disability Increases Safety

Is a secure workplace important? Of course it is. 

Whether an office or an industrial site, every employee wants to be safe

Although not all industries are hyper-focused on risk (as supply chain and manufacturing are) safety and related concerns have become a major consideration for all companies.  Whether heavy equipment operation; workplace violence; or bullying/harassment are the defining aspects, we are all having conversations about safety at work more than we were a decade ago.

All three areas (risk, physical security, emotional safety) have two factors in common: 1) the impact on employee engagement and 2) real costs to the organization.  Gallup states that high employee engagement leads to 70% lower safety incidents than those with low engagement scores.  So engagement leads to safety, but does safety lead to engagement and all the financial benefits of high engagement?

Yes!  In a study conducted at the University of New Hampshire, studies showed that “proactively employing people with disabilities and a non-judgmental work environment”, (as we discussed in last week's blog), can increase safety, a sense of well-being and employee engagement (all of which help increase profits). 

Intentionally Adding People with Disabilities Positively Influences Safety Budget, Contrary to Assumptions

At Walgreens, we conducted in-depth research into the impact that having more employees with disabilities has on safety in distribution centers.  A robust analysis of data collected over five years showed that when comparing employees with and without disabilities (matched with job descriptions to ensure equal level of risk in each group), people with disabilities had the same frequency of incidents, but the level of severity was significantly lower equated to actual cost per case was significantly lower, reducing medical by 67%, indemnity by 73% and expenses by 77%!  When a safety incident did require time off, people with disabilities returned to work 40% faster.

We conducted this research while at Walgreens because companies in our industry believed that introducing people with disabilities into a distribution center with high automation and industrial power equipment would cause accidents.  Unfortunately, this data still seems to surprise many.

Workplace Violence is Not Negatively Influenced by Disability

Another stereotype of people with disabilities, especially those with mental health impairments, is that they are more likely to become violent.  In 2014, National Institute of Health reviewed over 20 studies of violence and mental health and concluded there is no merit to this assumption.  They found that  mental disorders are neither necessary, nor sufficient causes of violence and that the major determinants of violence continue to be socio-demographic and socio-economic factors.  They also found that  members of the public exaggerate both the strength of the relationship between major mental disorders and violence, as well as their own personal risk from the severely mentally ill. It is actually far more likely that people with a serious mental illness will be the victim of violence.  They also reviewed the relationship between substance abuse, mental illness and violence and concluded that substance abuse appears is a major determinant of violence whether it occurs in the context of a concurrent mental illness or not.

An Inclusive Workplace Increases Engagement, Decreases Bullying

Kalargyrou’s research showed that engagement increases when employees feel that they have contributed in supporting and assisting (e.g., through training) people with disabilities and helping them become successful in their work. On the other hand, workers with disabilities appreciate the inclusive and supportive working environment, and “everyone gets to be a hero.”

One common issue related to bullying (in the workplace or anywhere) is the lack of confidence many bystanders have in confronting bullying behavior.  However, we found the opposite at Walgreens, where numerous anecdotal stories were relayed about a co-worker teasing or “picking on” an employee with a disability resulting in other co-workers confronting and shaming the bully.  As time went on, those employees (with a tendency to be unkind) self-selected out of employment at the facility.

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