Knowhow-Now Article

A new report from the Conference Board of Canada, entitled "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Literacy's Impact on Workplace Health and Safety, " suggests that workers are being put at serious risk due to many employers' overreliance on written manuals and policies and a serious lack of attention to building and maintaining workers' literacy skills.

The report, which was released July 21, is the culmination of a two-year study for Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. The purpose of the study was to examine the health and safety aspects of literacy skills development in the workplace.

The study found that employers often assume that because they set a minimum recruitment standard of a Grade 12 education level, that all workers are fully literate, and no literacy issues could possibly exist in their workplaces.  According to the report, 64% of employers felt that employees understood their health and safety policies to a large extent or fully, while only 40% of workers themselves agreed with that assessment. At the same time, only 5% of immigrant service agency respondents said they believed workers understood health and safety policies to a large extent or fully.

The report also noted that because literacy is an essential skill in terms of understanding health and safety policies, such as a worker's right to refuse unsafe work, safe work procedures, safe handling of materials and comprehension of WHMIS information, employers should be more proactive in assessing their workers' literacy levels by reviewing past incidents. It recommends that employers take a close look at their current  OH&S policies from the perspective of a low-literacy worker. It suggests that all workplaces work towards putting their OH&S policies into plain language to minimize communication difficulties between employers and workers.

Employers are also encouraged to address the stigma surrounding literacy, and recognize that some workers who may be struggling with literacy or communications skills will be reluctant to admit it for fear of reprisal, job loss or even just because of fear that other workers might make fun of them. Therefore, a good practice might be to integrate literacy and essential skills training into regular technical and safety training.

Stan Hudecki is content writer for the; Visit the site ( for more information about Report Highlights Safety Risks of Low Worker Literacy.

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