As a business owner, workplace health and safety should be one of your top priorities. Study after study has shown the myriad benefits of strong health and safety policies and training; from increased productivity to a more fulfilling workplace culture, keeping your team in good mental and physical shape just makes good financial sense. In a world where someone dies in a workplace accident every 15 seconds, you can never over stress the importance of safety training.
In order to implement effective health and safety programmes and policies, you probably rely on corporate training courses, e-learning software and workbooks. In addition to these learning materials, placing signage around the office, kitchen or worksite is often a good strategy. These training methods all have one thing in common – they require a high level of literacy.
Never assume that intelligent people have high literacy
But what about your staff members who have only a low level of literacy?
You might think that this is impossible – after all, you only hire the best candidates, and your team is comprised of smart people who excel in their field, surely they can all read to a high level?
This is not always the case. Otherwise intelligent people can struggle with literacy for a whole host of reasons; from childhood difficulties, learning disabilities and neurological illnesses, reading may not be easy for everyone. In fact, it could be your employee’s quick wit and intelligence that has enabled them to get this far with no one knowing about their ‘shameful secret’ – they struggle to read those training manuals you have provided.
As a recent blog post on the RoSPA site points out, “around 5.2 million adults in England can be described as “functionally illiterate” meaning they have literacy levels at or below those expected of an 11-year-old.” The chances are high that you have a team member struggling with this issue.
How is illiteracy impacting your business?
Illiteracy can have a significant impact on your workplace health and safety. As the World Literacy Foundation has stated, “employees with poor literacy are more likely to have accidents… this increases the need and cost for medical services, leading to higher absenteeism and damages long-term productivity.”
What can you do?
Above all else, it is imperative that you show empathy and compassion when it comes to dealing with employees who have a low level of literacy. Under the Equality Act 2010, employers have a duty to ensure that information is provided to all staff in a way that they can understand – this includes making accommodations for those who struggle with reading.
Consult with a workplace health and safety specialist to ensure that you are doing everything you can to keep your employees safe and healthy.