Is There A Correlation Between Workplace Accidents and Literacy Levels?

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When you think about the causes of workplace injuries, what comes to mind?

Not being properly trained? Maybe an employee’s thoughts are elsewhere? What about a low level of literacy?

Something that is not often talked about in the world of health and safety is poor reading ability being a major cause in accidents, injuries and even fatalities in the workplace. While effective training drastically decreases the chances of an accident happening, illiteracy among workers in the UK is a real issue.

This week we want to explore whether or not illiteracy can be a direct cause of health and safety breaches in the workplace.

Illiteracy In The UK

Shocking research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation discovered that 5 million adults in the UK lack basic reading, writing and numerical ability. In fact, 23% of 16-18 year olds were found to be at the lowest level of literacy.

Simply put, many young people going into the workplace don’t possess basic reading and writing skills that are needed to comply with regulations and safety.

It isn’t just a sizeable percentage of those under 30 that fall into the lowest level of literacy as 26% of 55-65 year olds suffer from a lack of these basic skills as well.

Does It Affect Workplace Safety?

Now that we know the statistics, does this low level of literacy affect everyone’s safety at work?

The short answer is yes, it does. The issue is that research suggests that the majority of those that have poor reading and writing tend to find employment in high risk jobs such as in the construction, manufacturing or agricultural industries.

This makes for a dangerous situation whereby you have a group of people working in jobs that require a high level of safety awareness and they don’t possess the basic skills to learn about workplace safety.

Colour Blindness Has An Impact Too

It isn’t just poor reading and writing that can contribute to accidents at work – colour blindness is a real issue as well.

Between 7 – 10% of the world’s population has difficulty distinguishing between green and red and these are the two of the four primary colours used in safety signs – and red and green mean very different things.

Have a look at our blog post from 2015 – Could your employees’ colour blindness be causing workplace accidents? – and the Health and Safety Executive’s Colour Vision Examination: a Guide for Employers for more information.

Illiteracy and Health and Safety

So, where does this all leave us in regards to safety at work?

It’s clear that there is a big issue in the UK with poor reading and writing ability and that this can have a direct impact on workplace safety. It can put both the person and other employee’s and perhaps members of the public at risk as well.

In terms of going forward employers need to take steps to address this. It can be providing health and safety training in a different format such as visual guides rather than written information and ensuring that guidelines are communicated effectively.

Safety at work will continue to be compromised by poor literacy levels and it goes far beyond workplace training however if employers identify these issues early and take reasonable measures to counteract them then the chances of an accident occurring because of this will be low.

Correlation between workplace accidents and literacy levels - Safety blog

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