New NIOSH Web Page Focuses on Workers with Developmental Disabilities

NIOSH has created a topic page on its Web site that contains links to research the agency and others has conducted on the safety and health of workers with developmental disabilities. The page also contains links to organizations that are working to promote safer working conditions for all workers, including those with disabilities.

Approximately 4.5 million individuals in the United States have developmental disabilities such as mental retardation, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, and epilepsy, NIOSH says. An estimated 30 percent of working-age adults in this population are employed, either in facility-based settings ("sheltered workshops") or in the conventional labor market. The number of those employed has increased steadily since the 1990s, and this growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Like all other workers, workers with developmental disabilities are at risk of experiencing a work-related injury or illness. Some research has indicated that workers with developmental disabilities may be at increased risk on the job due to characteristics of their disabilities such as poor judgment, lack of awareness of danger, impulsivity and restlessness, and difficulties communicating. However, since there is no national data source that specifically tracks work-related illness and injury among these workers, the true illness and injury risk is unknown, according to NIOSH.

NIOSH says that regardless of the real or perceived barriers to ensuring the safety and health of workers with developmental disabilities, it fully supports OSHA's policy statement that "working conditions should safeguard the safety and health of all workers, including those with special needs and limitations." In addition, safety and health concerns should not be a barrier to the employment rights of the developmentally disabled, NIOSH says.

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