What is OSH literacy?
Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) literacy is a key work and life skill and can be defined as: The degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, produce and understand basic OSH information and services needed to make appropriate decisions regarding Health and Safety at work and in training.
Literacy is the ability to read and write a particular language. Under the general umbrella term of ‘literacy’ there are recognised sub-literacies such as Health, Finance and I.T, which contain their own unique signs, symbols and meta-language. Schools and colleges teach these literacies to their students to better prepare them for their adult lives in the modern world.
OSH also uses a distinct set of shapes, signs, colours, symbols and meta-language to communicate information. This literacy can become even more specialised depending on different industry sectors. However, until now, OSH literacy has not been recognised as an essential life-skill literacy. We are changing that!
OSHliteracy.org is the world’s first and only dedicated organisation specifically raising awareness and best practice with regards to OSH literacy. We are committed to having OSH literacy recognised as an important specialised sub-literacy, to having it taught in schools and colleges and to making workplace risk communications ‘Accessible to All’
Why is OSH literacy education and awareness so important?
‘Every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease.
Every 15 seconds, 153 workers have a work-related accident.
An estimated 2.3 million people die every year from [recorded] work-related accidents and diseases. More than 160 million people suffer from [recorded] occupational and work-related diseases, and there are 313 million [recorded] non-fatal accidents per year. The suffering caused by such accidents and illnesses to workers and their families is incalculable. In economic terms, the ILO has estimated that more than 4% of the world’s annual GDP is lost as a consequence of occupational accidents and diseases.'(www.ilo.org/global/topics/safety-and-health-at-work, 2017.)
Statistical analysis shows that a large percentage of these workplace accidents occur due to a lack of understanding of, or failure to comply with, safety instructions. In many cases, this is due to the poor communication skills and lack of understanding about OSH literacy from both employers and employees. Particularly at risk groups are people within their first six months of employment, especially young people transitioning from education to employment, migrant workers, adults from poor socio-economic backgrounds, adults with low-levels of literacy, persons with Special Educational Needs (SEN) or with English as a Foreign Language (EFL – English is the international language used in OSH communications).
There are a number of reasons why a person may not have the required literacy levels needed to access OSH information. These can be physical and cognitive issues (SEN), or their economic, educational, linguistic, gender and religious backgrounds. OSH literacy is an essential life-skill literacy both in and out of the workplace. Examples of OSH literacy can be found on common household products and in public places. Having the basics in OSH literacy will greatly increase a person’s long-term health, economic and social mobility and it is an essential component to life-long learning.
Social inclusion and equality Laws such as the Equality at Work Act, The European Racial Equality Directive(2000/43/EC) and the UN Convention on Human Rights all require for workplace communications to be inclusive. The European Directive on Safety Signs (92/58/EEC) states that ‘Workers must be informed of the measures to be taken and must be given appropriate training’ (precise instructions).
Current OSH literacy communications and training presuppose a person may already have a certain level of OSH literacy skills and the majority of these communications are set at too high a level to be easily accessible. Levels of low literacy among adults globally are reported at anywhere between 20% and above and are well known. Therefore, for many employees, it does not particularly matter if the training course is translated into their native language. They neither have the general literacy skills nor the much more technical OSH literacy skills, needed to access it and achieve learning outcomes. Unfortunately, due to lack of ability and resources, some unscrupulous employers, simply go through the emotions of giving employees training. At the end of which employees are given a piece of paper or certificate, as proof they have had and understood, OSH training, regardless if they have understood it or not. Thus removing liability from employers. Therefore, we all need to ask if current OSH education, training, materials and other modes of risk communication are fit-for-purpose and Accessible to All. OSH literacy needs to be accorded the same level of recognition as other essential life-skill literacies and people need to be taught OSH literacy, starting with the basics, in advance of entering into employment or training.
OSHliteracy.org is a registered non-profit, voluntary organisation.
‘We confirm that OSHliteracy.org has met all the requirements set-out in the Governance Code for Voluntary and Community Organisations’.
It is registered on the Governance Code’s ‘Register of Compliant Organisations’
OSH Literacy.org is a registered training provider for both the U.K.’s Chartered Institute of Environmental Health and the Highfield Awarding Body for Compliance.
All courses are internationally recognised and accredited.
We are also proud to announce that OSH Literacy.org is the first ever international safety organisation to gain membership (Affiliate) of Fire-Aid (www.fire-aid.org); a consortium of UK organisations dedicated to developing Fire Safety programmes internationally.