There are a wide variety of "unseen human disorders," ? disorders not self-evident or obvious to others, which affect employees and workplace activities. People tend to recognize visible impairments - a coworker in a wheelchair, a person with cerebral palsy, an employee with blindness. Harder to spot are unseen conditions such as hearing loss, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, learning and other cognitive disorders, disorders resulting from neurological dysfunction, or even depression.
During the past several decades, psychologists, ergonomicists, human resource development specialists, and occupational health, safety and disability specialists have conduced research studies to better understand "unseen human disorders" and their affect on workplace safety. The results of these studies have spawned the development of intervention techniques in order to help individuals and organizations cope with these problems in the hope of bringing about safer workplace operations.
Unseen human disorders can be the root cause of some errors related to workplace safety. Employees having such disorders can be mistaken by their supervisors and others as having a poor attitude toward safety, although a dysfunction in their brain structure or chemistry may be the actual root cause of behaviors, which result in safety errors. Supervisors and crewmembers can utilize various easily implemented coping techniques to help employees deal with potential workplace safety concerns, thereby reducing risk of errors that can result in an accident.
Although unseen disorders vary in scope in terms of symptoms and manner of treatment, many have comorbid symptoms, allowing the possible use of similar intervention techniques. Research has shown that Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often co-morbid with learning disorders, oppositional defiant or conduct disorders, depressive disorders, and anxiety disorders. Figure 1 provides a comparison of the prevalence of co-morbidity of ADHD with common unseen disorders. For this article, ADHD will be used to demonstrate the safety implications of unseen disorders. It must be noted that individual disorders should be dealt with according to their symptoms.
Comparison of Prevalence of Common Co-morbid Psychiatric Diagnoses Figure 1 (available in full paper).
Historically, health professionals considered ADHD to be outgrown by the time a child completed his/her teenage years. However, we now know that ADHD continues throughout one's life. ADHD is a neurological deficiency, rather than the result of parental, social or emotional causes. Although generally diagnosed during childhood, many adults are realizing that they too have ADHD. Often adults learn they may have ADHD as a result of diagnoses of their children, as ADHD is believed to be influenced by genetics. The three primary characteristics of ADHD are a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Individuals who have ADHD generally show a pattern of these particular behaviors in at least two settings, for example, at home and at work. However, adults with ADHD are typically highly intelligent, have great ingenuity and exhibit high levels of energy in accomplishing work activities.