John Walker: Employers’ abuse of health and safety law could distort the deaf vote in the EU referendum

Posted on June 14, 2016

Applying for a new job? Application filled in. Question: am I disabled? Which one? Write down ‘deaf’ or not? Answer: ‘deaf and need a sign language interpreter.’ Application sent, at a click of a button.

And then there is a reply. A job interview? No. Not selected. Why? “Health and safety law”.

Has this happened to you? Have you ever applied for a job only to be turned down and told you were unsuitable for a post, because of ‘health and safety’?

It has a hint of an offence in the statement whereby the physiology of a deaf person is deemed as neither ‘healthy’ nor ‘safe’, and yet health and safety law, which is there to protect employees in the workplace, is used as a tool to inflict harm.

A means to force a person not to apply for a job, not because of their skills and experience, but due to their physical differences.

Like all offences, they quickly turn sour and the applicant is left with a bitter taste in their mouth; “health and safety” is accompanied with a string of expletives.

We are in the midst of an referendum on the British membership of the European Union and the vote is just over a week away and yet ‘health and safety’ has reared its head once more.

“Did you know that the EU created health and safety?” “EU is the reason why I can’t get a job.” “EU supports the employer and not me.” There are calls to vote for Brexit in order to give deaf people so-called ‘more rights’ in the work place.

A good friend, Helen, felt compelled to put our deaf peers right in a Facebook group set up specifically for the EU referendum, and provide information in BSL. “Health and safety can not be used to prevent you from getting a job.” “That is not the purpose of Health and Safety laws.”

She is right. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published a document stating, “Health and safety legislation should not prevent disabled people finding or staying in employment and should not be used as a false excuse to justify discriminating against disabled people.”

The guide reminds the employer, “They know about the job and how the way it is done can impact upon them, and they are likely to have good ideas about how to change things to make the situation better.” Yes, people like you and me are allowed to tell the employer how we think we can do the job we are applying for.

Health and safety has been used as an excuse to not employ a disabled person, even when the disabled person thinks they can do the job they have applied for.

But HSE recognises it is happening, “Health and safety is sometimes used as an excuse to justify discrimination against disabled workers. This should not happen.”

In actual fact, the EU has passed resolutions and directives that support the needs of disabled people, their rights to employment and their rights for reasonable adjustment in the workplace. Without the EU, disabled and deaf people’s lives would be far worse.

Deaf people are campaigning to leave the EU on the basis of a lie. A lie started by employers abusing the Health and Safety law to do the dirty deed; to prevent the employment of deaf people.

Can I just say that people are free to vote for Brexit or Bremain and it is up to all of us to find our own reasons as to why we should vote to stay in or leave.

But to use a lie as a reason to leave the EU, when it does good, is bordering on the ridiculous. And we need to put the lie back where it belongs, with the rogue employers who use them.

John Walker is a Teaching Fellow at University of Sussex and PhD student in Social Geography. Deaf, and sign language user by informed choice. He writes a blog on topics related to the Bourdieusian principle, by the title “Deaf Capital” . It is concerned with the ‘value’ that people place on the Deaf community or the cultural elements of deaf lives that can be askew or misconstrued. Follow him on twitter as @chereme

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