Reading danger: How poor literacy leads to accidents in the workplace

Literacy is the capacity to study, create and realize a distinct language. It is the foundation of our education program. Within the workplace there are subject or sector certain literacies such as wellness literacy, financial literacy, laptop literacy and OSH literacy. In this report, which initially appeared in RoSPA’s OS&ampH Journal, David Magee discusses the correlation amongst low levels of literacy and workplace accidents, ill wellness and financial losses.

Accident Statistics

According to the International Labour Organisation:

  • internationally, each 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-connected accident or illness and 153 workers have a function-associated accident
  • globally, an estimated 2.three million people die every year from (reported) work-connected accidents and diseases, and about 160 million people endure from operate-connected diseases
  • worldwide, there are 313 million (reported) non-fatal accidents
  • the suffering brought on by such accidents and illnesses to workers and their families is incalculable. In financial terms, a lot more than 4% of the world’s annual GDP is lost as a consequence of occupational accidents and ailments.

In Excellent Britain, HSE statistics report:

  • two million folks suffering from a perform-related illness (in 2013/14)Closeup of ballpoint pen over a candlesticks stock chart (very shallow dof focus on pen tip).
  • 142 workers killed at function (2014/15)
  • 78,000 other injuries to workers reported beneath RIDDOR
  • two million operating days lost due to operate-connected illness and workplace injury
  • £14.2 billion estimated expense of injuries and ill wellness from present working circumstances (2012/2013)

Although the literacy capabilities of workers and trainees is not the only purpose for injuries, deaths, disease, accidents and monetary losses occurring in the workplace, study has shown that there is a extremely true link. For example, in 2012 the Globe Literacy Foundation published a report on the economic and social cost of illiteracy. It located that “employees with poor literacy are a lot more probably to have accidents…This puts themselves and their co-workers at danger, increases the need to have and cost for medical services, major to larger absenteeism and damages extended-term productivity”.


In the UK there are a significant quantity of adults who have literacy issues. For example, around five.2 million adults in England can be described as “functionally illiterate” which means they have literacy levels at or beneath those expected of an 11-year-old.

To add to the problem, study has shown that men and women with low levels of literacy tend to uncover employment in higher-danger industries such as construction, transport, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing. These market sectors also have a tendency to attract much more males than women, and research has shown that, in common, in ‘developed’ nations, men have reduce levels of literacy than women. But even inside these industry and gender sectors there are disparities.

Furthermore, a lot of the statistics and investigation on literacy levels do not look indepth at other literacy concerns such as adults in the workplace who may possibly have a different very first language than that in their location of function, eg. migrant workers. Nor do they consist of consideration of other barriers to getting and understanding threat communication such as cognitive, auditory and vision impairment problems. For instance, the British Dyslexia site states that ten% of the population are dyslexic, 4% severely so.

Colour Blindness

It is not just reading and writing that’s an problem, nevertheless. 7-ten% of the worldwide male population (and .5% of ladies) endure, to various degrees, from the red-green deficiency form of colour blindness. This signifies they have troubles distinguishing amongst red and green. These are two of the four primary colours employed in OSH indicators. Red and green imply totally opposite factors – green indicates ‘safe’ or ‘go’ and red indicates ‘prohibited’ or ‘stop’. (The other two colours mainly utilized in OSH signs are yellow (warning) and blue (mandatory).) .


What can I do?

Employers and educators need to have to ask themselves if their current OSH education, education, materials and modes of danger communication are match-for-purpose and accessible to all, whatever an employee’s literacy level may be. Simply because if you are not receiving it appropriate the consequences can be deadly as the statistics at the starting of this article show. Contemplate the use of visual, non-verbal approaches such as photographs, signs or finding out materials such as pocketcards and DVDs. These are all helpful tools to get messages across to any person with low levels of literacy or those whose very first language is not English. Outcomes from the Canadian study verify this. Researchers located that “when health and security practices are communicated in written format, a disconnect happens if workers’ literacy skills are as well low for them to read or comprehend the manual”.

We all have a legal duty of care (beneath the Equality Act 2010 dutyholders must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ and make sure that ‘information is provided in an accessible format’) and moral duty to provide good education and info with regards to OSH literacy. This indicates equipping individuals with the simple fundamentals in OSH literacy and making all stakeholders aware of barriers and options in the acquisition of OSH details.

This is an abridged version of an article by Dave Magee, which initially appeared in RoSPA’s Occupational Safety &amp Well being Journal. For much more crucial wellness and security guides, information and suggestions, sign up to SafetyMatters, RoSPA’s cost-free fortnightly newsletter and obtain our collection of cost-free original e-books!

David Magee is an English teacher who specialises in literacy and particular educational requirements. He is also a fully qualified overall health and security and very first help trainer (MCIEH, techIOSH, GradIfireE, SIIRSM). He at present works at a vocational education centre in the Middle East teaching English and well being and security. For a lot more details see

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