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

Literacy is the ability to read, create and comprehend a particular language. It is the foundation of our education method. Within the workplace there are subject or market distinct literacies such as health literacy, monetary literacy, personal computer literacy and OSH literacy. In this post, which originally appeared in RoSPA’s OS&ampH Journal, David Magee discusses the correlation amongst low levels of literacy and workplace accidents, ill wellness and monetary losses.

Accident Statistics

According to the International Labour Organisation:

  • internationally, each and every 15 seconds a worker dies from a function-connected accident or illness and 153 workers have a perform-related accident
  • globally, an estimated two.3 million folks die each year from (reported) perform-related accidents and illnesses, and about 160 million people suffer from operate-related illnesses
  • worldwide, there are 313 million (reported) non-fatal accidents
  • the suffering brought on by such accidents and illnesses to workers and their households is incalculable. In economic terms, much more than four% of the world’s annual GDP is lost as a consequence of occupational accidents and illnesses.

In Excellent Britain, HSE statistics report:

  • two million men and women suffering from a operate-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 work (2014/15)
  • 78,000 other injuries to workers reported beneath RIDDOR
  • 2 million functioning days lost due to work-associated illness and workplace injury
  • £14.two billion estimated price of injuries and ill wellness from current functioning conditions (2012/2013)

Even though the literacy skills of workers and trainees is not the only purpose for injuries, deaths, disease, accidents and financial losses occurring in the workplace, analysis has shown that there is a quite actual hyperlink. For example, in 2012 the World Literacy Foundation published a report on the financial and social cost of illiteracy. It found that “employees with poor literacy are far more most likely to have accidents…This puts themselves and their co-workers at risk, increases the need to have and price for medical solutions, major to higher absenteeism and damages lengthy-term productivity”.


In the UK there are a significant quantity of adults who have literacy concerns. For example, about five.two million adults in England can be described as “functionally illiterate” meaning they have literacy levels at or under these anticipated of an 11-year-old.

To add to the issue, study has shown that folks with low levels of literacy have a tendency to locate employment in higher-threat industries such as building, transport, manufacturing, agriculture and fishing. These sector sectors also have a tendency to attract a lot more guys than females, and study has shown that, in general, in ‘developed’ nations, men have reduced levels of literacy than ladies. But even within these sector and gender sectors there are disparities.

In addition, a lot of the statistics and research on literacy levels do not look indepth at other literacy concerns such as adults in the workplace who could have a various first language than that in their place of operate, eg. migrant workers. Nor do they include consideration of other barriers to obtaining and understanding danger communication such as cognitive, auditory and vision impairment issues. For instance, the British Dyslexia website states that ten% of the population are dyslexic, four% severely so.

Colour Blindness

It is not just reading and writing that’s an issue, nevertheless. 7-ten% of the global male population (and .five% of ladies) endure, to different degrees, from the red-green deficiency kind of colour blindness. This signifies they have problems distinguishing amongst red and green. These are two of the 4 principal colours employed in OSH indicators. Red and green mean fully opposite issues – green means ‘safe’ or ‘go’ and red signifies ‘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 want to ask themselves if their current OSH education, training, supplies and modes of risk communication are match-for-goal and accessible to all, what ever an employee’s literacy level might be. Simply because if you are not getting it appropriate the consequences can be deadly as the statistics at the beginning of this write-up show. Take into account the use of visual, non-verbal methods such as photographs, signs or learning materials such as pocketcards and DVDs. These are all beneficial tools to get messages across to any individual with low levels of literacy or those whose first language is not English. Results from the Canadian study confirm this. Researchers found that “when health and security practices are communicated in written format, a disconnect occurs if workers’ literacy abilities are as well low for them to read or comprehend the manual”.

We all have a legal duty of care (under the Equality Act 2010 dutyholders must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ and ensure that ‘information is supplied in an accessible format’) and moral duty to provide very good education and data concerning OSH literacy. This indicates equipping individuals with the standard fundamentals in OSH literacy and making all stakeholders conscious of barriers and solutions in the acquisition of OSH information.

This is an abridged version of an report by Dave Magee, which initially appeared in RoSPA’s Occupational Safety &amp Wellness Journal. For far more important well being and safety guides, details and advice, sign up to SafetyMatters, RoSPA’s cost-free fortnightly newsletter and acquire our collection of free of charge original e-books!

David Magee is an English teacher who specialises in literacy and special educational demands. He is also a totally certified health and security and first aid trainer (MCIEH, techIOSH, GradIfireE, SIIRSM). He at present operates at a vocational instruction centre in the Middle East teaching English and overall health and safety. For more information see

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