Network Magazine
HSO Network Magazine • Volume 1 • Issue 2

Emergency Preparedness:
new rules if you employ people with disabilities

By Karin Micheelsen, Public Services Health & Safety Association, and Scott Williams, Workplace Safety & Prevention Services


Effective January 1, 2012, Ontario workplaces must provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees with a disability if the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation. This requirement appears under section 27 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“It’s about planning and accommodating that person with a disability by finding another way the person can respond to an emergency,” explains Charlotte Wilkinson, the Ministry of Community and Social Services’ senior coordinator, media and issues. As of 2006, 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability. That’s 15.5% of the population – and growing.

For employers with a comprehensive emergency response plan in place, you may already be in compliance. For everyone else, this new requirement presents an opportunity to upgrade an existing plan, or start fresh. Possible considerations appear below (see “Adding Disability Considerations to Your Emergency Preparedness Plan”). But first, more on this new requirement.

What the law already says

While Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act contains no specific emergency preparedness provisions regarding workers with a disability, the general duty under section 25(2)(h) already requires employers to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. This would include ensuring workers with a disability can evacuate the workplace safely.

Regulation 213/07 under Ontario’s Fire Protection And Prevention Act goes a step further. Section requires that a fire safety plan for evacuating occupants contain “special provisions for persons requiring assistance.”

AODA’s new Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations spell this out in more detail:

27.(1) Every employer shall provide individualized workplace emergency response information to employees who have a disability, if the disability is such that the individualized information is necessary and the employer is aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee’s disability.
(2) If an employee who receives individualized workplace emergency response information requires assistance and with the employee’s consent, the employer shall provide the workplace emergency response information to the person designated by the employer to provide assistance to the employee.
(3) Employers shall provide the information required under this section as soon as practicable after the employer becomes aware of the need for accommodation due to the employee’s disability.
(4) Every employer shall review the individualized workplace emergency response information, (a) when the employee moves to a different location in the organization; (b) when the employee’s overall accommodations needs or plans are reviewed; and (c) when the employer reviews its general emergency response policies.
(5) Every employer shall meet the requirements of this section by January 1, 2012.

Could your workplace safely evacuate employees with disabilities?

Evacuating all employees safely is central to emergency preparedness planning, including people with disabilities. Some disabilities may require additional considerations. For instance, a deaf person who cannot hear a fire alarm, or a person in a wheelchair with no recourse to an elevator.The individualized emergency response plans called for in the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation reflect the flexible nature of the standards, recognizing that solutions will vary with every organization.


You may also be interested in

1. Tips on Helping a Person with a Disability

The following suggestions have been adapted from Emergency Management Ontario’s Emergency Preparedness Guide for People with Disabilities / Special Needs and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada’s Planning for safety: Evacuating people who need assistance in an emergency.

2. What Else You Need to Know about AODA

The individualized workplace response information provisions under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)'s Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulations are just one aspect of a legislative initiative that aims to eliminate barriers in the way of people with disabilities, so that they can participate fully in society. People living with a disability represent a significant opportunity and employment resource for the province and its employers. The intention is to encourage businesses and employers to put an underutilized resource to better use.

3. Workers with Disabilities: A Wider Pool

Under employment accessibility standards, organizations aren't required to hire people with disabilities. Rather, the standards are intended to ensure that people with disabilities who are capable of filling roles have equal opportunity to be considered for the position. This echoes the policies of the Human Rights Commission of Ontario and the Duty to Accommodate under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Employers can benefit from a wider pool of candidates by making the recruitment process more accessible.