Celebrating a Safe and Neurodiverse Workforce

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March 18-24, 2024 is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a significant event for me as a parent of a neurodivergent adult child, I often worry about their health, happiness, and employability in today’s world. 

Fortunately, there is a growing motivation among employers to embrace neurodiversity and hire individuals with conditions such as autism, dyslexia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to The Harvard Business Review, by incorporating these different perspectives, companies gain a competitive edge, including benefits like increased productivity, enhanced quality, great innovation, and improved employee engagement. Additionally, Autistic employees may be more likely to speak up about workplace issues and violations, as they are typically less influenced by peer pressure. 

As a safety professional, I also worry about my child’s risk of work-related injury. There are limited studies, but some research suggests that individuals with autism and ADHD may be more susceptible to accidents leading to injury and death due to factors such as distractibility, difficulty recognizing and responding to danger, impulsivity, emotional distress, and lack of ability to read social cues. 

So, what can be done to address the unique needs of this remarkable population? How can employers promote safety when learning styles and safety awareness vary so widely? 

It must be recognized that even neurotypical adults have different learning styles and rates. While creating inclusive safety programs may require extra effort, the result will positively impact all employees. 

To achieve this, I highly recommend considering the valuable insights from Catherine Lee, the leader of the Australian-based Neurodiverse Safe Work Initiative. Here are some key considerations:

  • Evaluate to identify opportunities for greater inclusivity.
  • Collaborate with neurodiverse individuals—most have discovered what they need most and are eager to be a part of the development process. 
  • Offer multiple training formats, including visual, written, auditory, and hands-on approaches. Reinforce learning through practical application.
  • Adjust the pace of training to allow for questions and conversations. Repeat and reinforce the information. 
  • Monitor progress through regular feedback sessions, ongoing training, and refresher courses. 
  • Plan for emergencies by recognizing that individuals may respond differently in times of stress. Provide opportunities to practice emergency procedures, have written and visual reminders, and if needed, provide aid for a safe response.
  • Evaluate the work environment, considering factors such as lighting, sound, clothing, and potential distractions.
  • Watch for signs of fatigue, burnout and stress among employees. Provide flexibility in scheduling and allow adequate breaks in a quiet area.
  • Give clear instructions to help prioritize tasks, offer explanations, and be specific. Utilize technology to assist with reminders and workflow. 

By demonstrating a willingness to reevaluate and adapt, workplaces can become safer for all employees. Moreover, creating a diverse work environment that embraces neurodiversity fosters innovation, productivity, and the kind of inclusive culture that many employers desire. Together, let's make our workplaces more supportive and empowering for everyone.

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