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Tremors in the Workplace
Some of us take the ease for which it takes to perform a 9-5 job for granted. For others, this is a luxury that can’t be afforded. Tremors can do more than affect one’s capability to perform tasks but can lead to discrimination, employment termination, and (most importantly) loss of confidence.
It’s Your Right
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is clearly stated that every individual is to be considered equal. People can also turn to The Canadian Human Rights Act to protect themselves against harassment or discrimination based on disability (Government of Canada, 2017). Canada data demonstrates that about half of disabled Canadians are employed, leaving many more under-employed compared to their non-disabled counterparts (McQuigge, 2017). Unfortunately, regardless of disability laws, there continue to be cases of discrimination.
A case reported by Knowsley (2015) described a lift technician who was dismissed after his boss became aware of his hand tremors. While his excuse was the termination was due to safety reasons, the technician had worked there for over 5 years without prior interference. Furthermore, the employer did not seek a medical examination to determine whether working conditions were unsafe, and the tremor was overall very slight. As a result of this discrimination in the workforce, the technician received $3, 700 for lost wages and $25, 000 for loss of dignity and injury. Cases such as this one also extends to a waitress with tremors who was fired for spilling items when carrying her tray (Brody, 2007).
If qualification for work remains unchanged, employers have no grounds to dismiss based on disability. Everyone has the right to make a livelihood for themselves without having to worry about additional discrimination from employers.
How tremors affect the workplace
Personal anecdotes on the International Essential Tremor Foundation site provided insightful details about daily struggles faced with tremors and various coping mechanisms that were used to surpass them. For example, one author and musician revealed how his essential tremors used to be a constant source of embarrassment and anxiety. Learning guitar with tremors was a great struggle, which made him modify his pursuit of singing. After many years of trying to hide his tremors, he finally embraced it and decided to spread awareness through his music and novel audience. Another story took on the viewpoint of a Los Angeles Times news editor whose essential tremors interfered with his ability to draw cartoon characters. While his tremors were not a source of embarrassment, he was aware that his ability to draw cartoon characters without assistive devices might soon become impossible.
Various professions will face various barriers when dealing with tremors, however, it’s important to take appropriate steps to ensure you can work to your full capacity. A personal account by Vito Cosmo (2014) described how tremors led to small and illegible handwriting, which can be seen as a problem for a State and Local Tax director. As a solution to this issue, he would carry his laptop to meetings or have someone else take handwritten notes for him. Another student had a similar problem where she couldn’t write her own notes, but once the disability laws entitled her to a note-taker she was able to return to college (Brody, 2007). While tremors are a common issue for these individuals, so is fatigue. As a result, occasionally working from home or having later start times might be necessary to deal with fatigue. One important distinction with disability in the workplace is that while it might affect one’s ability to perform tasks, it doesn’t change one’s qualifications to do a good job.
Additional tips and tricks reported by individuals suffering from tremors include: surround yourself with positive individuals, practice deep breathing exercises and stay organized (Cosmo, 2014). Others have practiced yoga to gain flexibility or other forms of physical activity. One woman even wrote a book where she provided advice for dealing with essential tremors, including hold half mugs with all fingers at the rim, use a travel mug with a lid and straw, ask for already cut food from restaurants, use pens with rubber grips, replace buttons with Velcro, and carry a stack of printed labels with your contact information (Brody, 2007).
Tremors Brought on by the Workplace
Toxins in the workplace environment can compromise health long-term both physically and mentally. Numerous studies have pointed to manganese toxicity exposure, common for manganese miners, smelters, welders, and battery workers, as a cause for psychiatric symptoms and postural tremors. In a study that compared welders with tremors to tremors in patients with Essential Tremors (ET) and Parkinson’s Disease (PD), tremor intensity and amplitude were greater in the first two groups respectively. Hand tremors worsened with arm extensions, resulting in greater reporting of action and postural tremors in welders than patients with PD. For example, welders’ tremors doubled when the right arm was extended, but remained largely unchanged in patients with PD (Sanchez-Ramos et al., 2011). After 20+ years of free of environmental toxins, blood samples yielded low to zero traces of manganese, but postural tremors continued to persist. Unfortunately, this is neither the first nor last reporting of manganese exposure in literature.
Another possibility for work onset tremors is stress. One case study examined a 52-year-old nurse in the intensive care unit who developed tremors for fine motor activities. That made tasks, such as handling an arterial line, next to impossible. However, after she switched to day surgery, which she found far less stressful and allowed her adequate sleep, her tremors did not impede on nursing duties as they had on previous occasions (Lurati, 2015).
There are plenty of stories shared online of daily struggles faced by individuals with tremors. Creating a support network, knowing your rights, and making changes to improve daily living will help individuals take control of their tremors and workplace.
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Brody, J.E. (2007). Understanding and coping with tremors. The New York Times.Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/30/health/30iht-29brod.5924602.html
Cosmo, Vito A, Jr,C.P.A., C.G.M.A. (2014). Embrace the elephant in the room: Disability in the workplace. Pennsylvania CPA Journal, 85(2), 24-26.
Government of Canada. (2017). Rights of People with Disabilities. Government of Canada. Retrieved from: http://www.canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1448633334025
Knowsley, A. (2015). Employee discriminated against in workplace for handtremor,. Rainey Collins Lawyers.
Lurati, Ann, AR NP, AC NP-BC, MPH,D.N.P., C.O. (2015). An ICU nurse with a history of tremors. Workplace Health & Safety, 63(1), 6-8. doi:http://dx.doi.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/10.1177/2165079914565346
McQuigge, M. (2017). Canadians with Disabilities Act to focus on employment: minister. Global News.
Sanchez-Ramos, J., Reimer, D., Zesiewicz, T., Sullivan, K., & Nausieda, P. A (2011). Quantitative analysis of tremors in welders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8(5), 1478-http://www.essentialtremor.org/coping/personal-storiessharing/