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Law, technology and sign language

Autor: Magdalena Gajda, tłumaczenie: Michał Landsberger
Źródło: Dodatek Praca nr 1/2006

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People with hearing impairment live in a world partially or entirely devoid of sound. They rely mostly on what they can see. Here are some organisational and technical issues that should be taken into account by an employer who wishes to hire a person with impaired hearing.

a person with hearing impairment working at the supermarket

One of the factors taken into consideration when assessing whether a given working conditions pose a threat to worker's health is the level of noise. Sadly, many employers still hold a false belief that it is safe for a deaf person to be exposed to excessive noise levels since he or she can't hear anything anyway. This is far from true. In fact, working in such conditions can be detrimental to the impaired worker's health.
According to the workplace safety and health regulations the employer is obliged to provide the employees with an adequate protection against excessive noise either by modifying and silencing the noise-generating plant, by enclosing it or by placing the operator in a soundproof enclosure. Plus, the workers must be equipped with personal hearing protectors and job rotation ought to be introduced.

In Poland, the permissible noise levels and general requirements concerning noise monitoring are regulated by the standard no. PN-84/N-01307. For more detailed information on hearing protection visit, the list of Polish Standards is available at

Workplace accommodations for hearing-impaired workers:

  • written emergency instructions and signs placed near all escape routes, emergency exits, doorways and on staircases
  • written instructions and safety regulations in the workplace, in restrooms, canteens, medical facilities etc.
  • lifts equipped with signal lights
  • teletypewriters and amplified telephones helping impaired workers to communicate
  • machines that are properly and visibly marked, equipped with signal lights and visual alarm system, as stipulated by the Polish Standards

Alarm systems and warning signs must fit the impaired worker's sensory abilities:

  • warning signs marking any potential source of danger or a danger zone ought to be placed in well-lit and easy-to-see spots,
  • signal lights can't be neither too bright nor too dim and ought to be placed against a contrasting background
  • the use of hand sign system – precise, simple, easy to use and understand. Its full description is contained in the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations.

The employers' main concern when it comes to hiring employers with impaired hearing, is the communication barrier. Hiring a sign language interpreter can prove too costly for small and medium firms, whereas hiring assistants for deaf employees is even more expensive, not to mention the fact that there are no regulations for employing them.

However, it is possible to overcome such problems, as was demonstrated by a manager of one of the companies employing people with hearing impairment. In his dealings with them, he either communicates with them directly via speechreading or sends them written instructions by email. Sign language interpreter's assistance is needed only during weekly staff meetings and individual interviews.

A word from the expert

Józef Fijołek, Senior Labour Inspector, National Labour Inspectorate
Labour Inspectors, when assessing whether a given workplace has been properly adapted to impaired worker's needs, follow regulations contained in several separate legal acts. These include labour law, Occupational and Social Rehabilitation Act and Occupational Safety and Health Regulations. We make sure that the company employing impaired workers respects their rights and that its facilities have all necessary adaptations. However, I must admit that even the inspectors don't have a clear idea on what those adaptations should include, as there is no single and all-inclusive set of regulations on the subject. Therefore, people employing and working with the disabled persons are often forced to come up with their own solutions. Although National Labour Inspectorate is not an advising body, the employers who wish to hire impaired workers are always welcome to turn to us for advice, it is our moral duty to aid them.

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