In anticipation of the January 1, 2012 compliance deadline, many organizations became intimately familiar with the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service Regulation, O. Reg. 429/07 made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). A second regulation, made under the AODA also contains requirements that organizations were responsible for complying with by January 1, 2012, but which some organizations may have innocently overlooked.
The Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, O. Reg. 191/11 (IAS) made under the AODA was the second regulation to come into force, with compliance deadlines ranging from January 1, 2012 to January 1, 2021.
This regulation addresses three unique areas for persons with disabilities - information and communication, employment and transportation.
The clause contained in the IAS with a compliance deadline of January 1, 2012 relates to an employer's obligations with respect to emergency response and preparedness. Specifically, the IAS requires employers to provide individualized plans to assist employees with disabilities during an emergency situation. Anyone who has reduced mobility, a speech, hearing or vision impairment, or a cognitive or mental health impairment regardless of whether or not these conditions are temporary or permanent may need assistance to evacuate a building in an emergency situation. For example, some employees may have difficulty finding an emergency exit due to a vision disability, hearing an alarm because they are deaf, or navigating through an emergency evacuation pathway due to an anxiety disorder.
The clause that deals with emergency response is contained in Section 27 of the IAS. Section 27 requires employers to "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," by January 1, 2012.
Section 27 also requires employers to provide this individualized workplace emergency response information to any persons within the organization who have been designated to assist the employee, with the employee's consent. An employee's evacuation plan may require one or more other designated employees to assist the employee with activities such as navigating stairs, opening door locks or latches, or participating in carrying a wheelchair down stairs.
When the individualized workplace emergency response information is developed, employers are then required to review the information: (a) when the employee moves to a different location in the organization; (b) when the employee's overall accommodation needs or plans are reviewed; and (c) when the employer reviews its general emergency response policies.
In order to ensure effective compliance with s. 27 of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, it is recommended that organizations take the following steps:
1. Identify situations where the organization has already been informed of an employee's disability, and develop a written procedure to inform employees how they can voluntarily identify temporary or permanent disabilities to their employer. This procedure should also provide direction to management and other employees in implementing the legal requirements prescribed by the IAS. It is important that any disability-related information provided by employees is kept private and confidential, and not shared with anyone other than the designated employer representative identified in the procedure without prior written approval from the employee.
2. Meet with each employee who has notified the organization of a disability, individually, to gather sufficient information to understand how their disability may affect their ability to respond to a workplace emergency, e.g., evacuating the building during a fire. Again, this information should not be shared without prior written approval from the employee.
3. Work with the employee and, where appropriate, the joint health and safety committee or the health and safety representatives, to provide appropriate individualized workplace emergency response information to the employee or to acquire appropriate equipment or assistive devices to accommodate the needs of the employee in an emergency situation. Organizations should note that the IAS requirements are not a replacement or substitution for the requirements established under the Human Rights Code, which require employers to accommodate employee disabilities to the point of undue hardship.
4. Implement the proposed course of action, and ensure that appropriate personnel receive adequate training. This would include training on information contained in the employee's detailed evacuation plan as well as training on the use of any assistive devices and instruction on the location of emergency exits and signage. Training would also be provided to any designated support person(s) or other employee who has been assigned to assist the employee in the event of an emergency.
5. Request that the employee continue to provide updates to the employer if there is a material change to his or her abilities. Similarly, the employer must also ensure that individualized workplace emergency response information is reviewed and updated as prescribed by the regulation.
As with any workplace policy or procedure, compliance efforts should be documented in writing.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.