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June 17, 2024

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Inclusive workplaces

How to create more neuroinclusive workplaces – a health and safety perspective

Robert Manson MSc NEBOSH (Dip), Neurodiversity Occupational Consultant from consultancy firm Creased Puddle, provides guidance and tips of the ways health and safety can be more inclusive for neurodiverse employees. 

Robert Manson, Neurodiversity Consultant at Creased Puddle

There is an estimated 15-20% of neurodivergent employees in the workplace, with conditions such as Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and Dysgraphia (1). Over recent years, more employees have been disclosing their conditions to their employers as society becomes more open and accepting of difference.

Due to stigma and fear of being identified, in some circumstances, individuals may mask their conditions’ challenges, adopting a policy of ‘just get through it’ or possibly avoiding those activities that may expose them.

Playing to their strengths

Neurodivergent individuals have many strengths and skills to bring to the workplace, including delivering high levels of performance, increased productivity, and profitability to organisations (2).

Neurodivergent brains can often work differently to neurotypical presentations, and it is often found that creativity, critical thinking, problem solving and attention to detail are some of their key strengths. This makes neurodivergent individuals an attractive recruitment prospect in the market and also provides a competitive advantage (3).

Unfortunately, some employees still struggle to recognise their own strengths and often see their neurodivergent ‘spikey’ profile as a risk to the status quo and a reason to provide costly adjustments.

Also, historically, health and safety professionals were (are) concerned that neurodivergent employees will be more accident prone, make more errors and create a danger to themselves and others. However, many companies are now taking action to be more neuroinclusive (4).

With the right support and adjustments from Workplace Needs Assessments and Risk Assessments, neurodivergent employees are able to play an active part in their development whilst working in a safe and healthy way. In fact, with more critical thinking and challenging the status quo workplace hazards are often identified earlier and more accurately. Therefore, compliance is actually much higher.

Do we have to make adjustments?

Credit: Alamy Stock

There are legal reasons to provide support to neurodivergent employees. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 were introduced to reinforce the Health and Safety Act 1974. They explicitly outline what employers are required to do to manage health and safety and undertake risk assessments to identify potential hazards to employee health and safety and anyone who may be affected by their work activity.

There is also the Equality Act 2010 to consider. Many neurodiverse conditions come within the remit of this legislation, although individuals themselves do not want to be recognised as being disabled. Notwithstanding this, the employer should always consider reasonable adjustments to the workplace, work procedures or ways of doing things to support their staff.

In some cases, it may also be required to complete a personal or individual health and safety risk assessment if the employees are identified as safety critical workers. This is someone whose job involves activities, if not performed correctly, could lead to serious harm or injury to themselves or others i.e. drivers, construction workers, emergency services etc.

Examples of where health and safety can be more neuroinclusive:

Workplace design

Often health and safety professionals are part of the workplace design teams or invited to provide their advice on new buildings or facilities. As well as considering safe access and egress, there are other areas to consider.

Credit: Alamy Stock

Lighting is often reported to cause distraction and discomfort especially if it is too bright or flickering. This can be overstimulating for those with sensory sensitivities and regularly will be the cause of headaches or migraines. Having adjustable lighting, different coloured bulbs or use of vertical lamps can ease the situation.

Noise from machinery or equipment as well as that from colleagues in a shared office is another common cause of discomfort and distraction. Alerts or alarms (like Teams calls or email notifications) can cause discomfort and acute sensory overwhelm, especially for those who are hypersensitive to light and sound.

Acoustic controls and use of noise absorbing panels can reduce the noise levels as well as alternative means to alert someone should be considered. Noise cancelling or noise controlling headphones or ear buds can filter certain frequencies to make it less distracting and distressing.

Other factors such as smell and touch can also cause the employee to feel uncomfortable and overwhelmed impacting their focus and concentration. This may require adjustments that reduce or prevent exposure to these sensory receptors, particularly if employees are hyposensitive to smells such as hazardous chemicals.

If neurodivergent employees become overwhelmed, having a quiet space where they can relax, and recover can be extremely beneficial. This could be a dedicated wellbeing room or a quiet office or area that is included in the overall design.

Health and safety information and training

Often procedures and protocols are written so that employees can read what they need to do. They are usually written using small font size and are often detailed over many pages.

The use of flow charts, diagrams and pictograms make information more easily digestible for learners and more stimulating for those who may find the message somewhat dry…

Verbal instructions and training are often delivered at a set pace and all at once, especially during toolbox talks. This can prevent learning for some employees as they need to process the information over a longer period of time.

They may be likely to benefit hugely from the information in advance, so they know what is going to be covered. They may also require the information, as a follow up, in bullet form so they can process it later and in a way they prefer.

The use of online e-learning modules is used to reach large numbers of employees in getting key messages across. However, for some employees they can find this monotonous and lose focus after a short period of time.

Further reading: Hear more about neurodiversity and wellbeing from our BSC conference write up: “One in six employees in any week will experience common mental health problems”

Personal Protective Equipment

There is a huge range of clothing and equipment that can be used to protect employees from hazards and harmful substances.

Credit: Alamy Stock

Safety shoes or boots can often be heavy and restrictive in movement and usually with laces. This can pose challenges for some neurodivergent employees especially those with Dyspraxia which can affect movement and coordination. In these circumstances providing clothing which is made of a softer /lighter material should be considered alongside those which use zips or fasteners rather than laces.

Protective suits or overalls may also cause sensory issues for some, including restrictive movement or heat discomfort. Providing lighter, cooler material or only wearing them when it is required should be considered.

There are a growing number of different choices available, and it may take a little effort to find the right one.

Use of breathing apparatus and face masks is another item of equipment that may bring its challenges for neurodivergent employees. Considering the task and the type of equipment will need risk assessing and alternative equipment may need to be provided. Some neurodivergent individuals like to wear a mask and getting the right one will make all the difference to their wellbeing and comfort.

Working arrangements

It’s very common for us to work with organisations who have shift systems. These bring with them their own unique set of challenges which might include the unpredictability of working patterns and arrangements, particularly for unplanned events and emergency situations.

Working different shift hours can also have an impact on sleep patterns for most people. However, some neurodivergent employees may already have sleep issues associated with their condition which will need risk assessing and control measures considered in order to keep them safe and well.

Credit: Unsplash/Bethany Legg

In open-plan offices, shared desks and hot-desking have become common practice. This can create a busy and often noisy workplace with everyone occupying the same place. Some neurodivergent employees will require a dedicated area that reduces the risk of distraction. This could be an allocated area, quiet office, or hybrid way of working or home working as alternative options.

Examples of other quick and simple no/low-cost reasonable adjustments include:

  • Recording meetings and sending a copy for later listening.
  • Allowing more time, up to 25%, for them to process information and training.
  • Colour coding equipment for identification.
  • When training, breaking down a task into smaller sequences.
  • Using clearer or more direct language.
  • Allocating time for them to ask questions during meetings.

If you require any further information on supporting neurodiverse employees contact Robert Manson MSc NEBOSH (Dip) at [email protected].


  1. Evaluating and supporting Neurodifferences* at work. March 2022
  2. Business Disability Forum. Neurodiversity Toolkit. London; 2023
  3. Neurodiversity at Work. London; 2018
  4. British Safety Council. Thinking differently: how to embrace neurodiversity and make workplaces for all. March 2024

A guide for managers: Supporting employee wellbeing

This guide, written by Heather Beach, Founder of The Healthy Work Company, serves as a go-to resource to help managers support team members who may be experiencing stress or struggling with their mental health, including warning signs, duty of care and top tips.

Wellbeing Conversations for Managers

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