Could your employees’ colour blindness be causing workplace accidents?

Posted on written by Sam Barton

As an employee in the United Kingdom, you have a legal – and moral – obligation to take reasonable measures to keep your workplace safe. For example, you must post colour coded posters in highly trafficked areas, provide comprehensive safety training and offer your employees health and wellbeing counselling. Once you have done these things, you might feel like you can sit back and congratulate yourself for making your team’s safety a priority – but have you considered that your staff may have medical or developmental needs that need to be addressed?

We recently covered the health and safety hazards associated illiteracy and/ or low literacy in the workplace, but there are myriad other mental, physical and development challenges that could affect the ways in which your staff interpret and understand training and written signs.

Colour Blindness – a common problem in the UK and around the globe

According to official statistics, 1 in 12 men (8%) and 1 in 200 women are known to suffer from colour blindness of varying degrees of severity, also known as colour vision deficiency (CVD). This amounts to 4.7% of the entire population of the United Kingdom. Black and white colour blindness is quite rare – most people with this condition can see a washed out versions of shades and have difficulty telling the difference between red, green and yellow.

While a majority of people with CVD are capable of excelling in all aspects of their lives, living with colour blindness can pose severe challenges when it comes to workplace safety, particularly in the electrical industry where coloured wires are often used to denote different voltages.

OSH signs – problematic for those with colour blindness

The four common colour coded signs that are in use for Occupational Health and Safety are blue, yellow, red and green – colours that are easily confused by people with CVD.

What can you do as an employer?

The first step that every employer should take is to familiarise themselves with the Health and Safety Executive’s Colour Vision Examination: a Guide for Employers. This will provide you with a detailed understanding of your obligations to your employees with CVD, and help you come up with strategies to help them access health and safety information and keep them from harm.

Most importantly, ensure that you show understanding and empathy to your employees who are dealing with this condition, and let them know that you are working to ensure that they are treated with regard.

If you have questions about this issue, consult with a workplace health and safety expert in order to make sure you are meeting your legal obligations.

Colour blind awareness at work - IOSH Managing Safely

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