British workers living with disability have had a poor deal ever since 2013. When the last of the Remploy factories were shut down that year, disabled people flourishing in jobs that had existed for 67 years were left without much to do – especially not in manufacturing. Unfortunately, many of the manufacturing facilities left in the UK do not have health and safety standards required to both invite disabled people into work with them, and to help them stay safe and gain meaningful employment within the manual industry. That can, and should, change.
Building in safety
Research conducted by St Andrews University notes how the most common form of disability in the UK involves mobility problems, which impact on fine motor skills and anything that involves physical motion. For the hands-on work of manufacturing facilities, that impacts on the ability of disabled people to find work in workshops and to do so safely. Making gentle adaptations can achieve a lot, however. The use of heavy machinery such as embossing machines creates a primary risk that can be mitigated, for instance, with the use of adaptive guards, to help people with mobility requirements; and visual aids, like braille, to help those with visual impairment to safely operate devices. This can, in turn, aid able-bodied workers in avoiding injury.
A greater challenge concerns those businesses for whom disabled people are not even on the radar. Levels of inspection by the HSE are at low levels, and this is creating a more permissive workplace culture towards ignoring the requirements of people living with disability. Under law, workplaces must be disability-positive, and must take every reasonable step towards adapting their work before saying it cannot be completed by people with particular disabilities. The law has made positive changes, but more can be done; that being said, there are good news stories for people living with disability hoping to find their way into the manufacturing industry.
The BBC reported in March that Arlington Automotive, a Coventry vehicle factory, had been rescued following an eight-figure purchase from a third party. This was good for British jobs, but also good for disabled workers – the plant specifically hires individuals diagnosed with disability, and 30% of their 182-strong workforce are diagnosed with some form of disability. The plant is known for its adaptations to allow these people to get to work in the factory in a safe and productive manner, and the fact the value of the enterprise was recognised is a boon for the hopes of disabled workers around the country.
More needs to be done, however. Not enough factories are concerned enough about the safety of potential disabled employees to make the jump to being fully accessible. Only with more public pressure, and change from advocates within government, will these job opportunities become more commonplace and help disabled people, who are employed at half the national average rate, to have more chances.