What is OSH literacy®?
OSH literacy® can be described as: The level to which individuals have the capacity to identify, access, utilize and comply with Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) information and services needed to eliminate or reduce risk of harm or losses to themselves and others.
OSH literacy.org is a non-profit NGO which advocates for the recognition and teaching of OSH literacy as an essential, functional life-skill.
Regardless of whatever job or task you are occupied with at work, at home or in public places, there is a risk to your physical and/or mental safety and heath, even reading this. In this age of information there is also advice available to help you to eliminate or reduce this risk. However, not everyone has the capacity to access this information. OSH literacy.org is a consortium of volunteer teachers, nurses and other health & safety specialists. It is the world’s first and only dedicated organisation specifically raising awareness and best practice with regards to Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) information and instruction, especially for persons with low levels of language, literacy and learning ability as well as other at-risk groups. We are active in a number of areas. Our work is funded through offering internationally recognized and accredited OSH training courses and consultancy services to the private sector. We have strong links with a number of NGOs and currently run projects in Asia, the Middle-East and Europe. Every private course we deliver funds free training for at-risk groups. We are committed to making a tangible reduction in the unacceptably high numbers of deaths, disease, injuries and losses which occur globally due to poor OSH communications. It is our aim to have OSH literacy recognised as an essential, functional, life-skill literacy, for it to be taught in schools and colleges and to make OSH communications ‘Accessible to All’.
Literacy is the ability to read, write and understand a particular language. Subject areas such as English language (a,b,c?!&), numeracy (1, 2, 3, + – x =) and Information and Computer Technologies (I.C.T @ / _ wi-fi, apps) comprise their own unique set of signifiers and terminology. The acquisition of functional literacy skills for these subject areas is viewed as essential to economic and social mobility in today’s globalized world. Hence these subjects are a mandatory core-component of most education and development programs around the world. Other key-skills such as financial literacy ($ £ %, tax) are also taught to help people function successfully in their everyday, adult lives.
Information designed specifically to help us eliminate or reduce risk of harm or loss, uses its own unique set of signifiers and comes in many different forms and levels. We see examples of this literacy everywhere: at work, at home – on everyday household products and in public places. At entry level great effort has been made by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to make this information as universally and easily accessible as possible. A combination of shapes, colours, symbols and specialist terminology is used. However, communication is a two-way process which requires all parties to have the requisite language and literacy levels, as well as subject knowledge, necessary to comprehend and engage with the information being communicated – no matter how simple one party thinks the information is to understand.
For many reasons most young people around the world still leave full-time education without any functional capacity to identify, access, process, utilize or comply with any of the many different forms or levels of OSH information they are likely to encounter and which has been designed specifically to help them eliminate or reduce a risk of harm or loss to themselves and others. Nor do they have any concept of OSH or risk as a serious subject matter. Furthermore, in this ‘Age-of-Information’ they are constantly bombarded with numerous, different colored logos, symbols and shapes advertsing a wide variety of different information and services. A large number of people do not have the functional capacity to differentiate and prioritize these different signifiers. In fact, they are totally oblivious to them.
There are numerous other reasons why certain individuals may have difficulty accessing and understanding OSH information and services. These can be due to Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) and linguistic issues (as with numeracy and ICT English is the international lingua-franca used in OSH and the international workplace and it uses a lot of specialized terminology not taught on general English programs). Social, economic, cultural and even religious factors can also play a role. Furthermore, individuals who already have pre-existing low levels of language, literacy and learning ability, for whatever reasons ( 1 in 7 adults around the world are illiterate), tend to find employment in high-risk industry sectors such as: agriculture, construction and manufacturing. In addition, many of these employees who may find themselves being exploited, abused or in other hazardous situations do not have the OSH literacy skills necessary to research and access the OSH information and services needed to reduce the risk to themselves and others.
Conversely, despite national and international legislation to make OSH communications more accessible, persons with a responsibility for communicating OSH information and services within the workplace, generally neither have the training, skills nor time to adapt their language and materials so as to make them accessible for persons with little or no OSH literacy skills nor prior subject awareness.
OSH literacy does fulfill all the criteria to be recognized and classified as an essential functional-skill. Ability levels can even be mapped onto competency matrixes from entry through to doctoral level. I have often encountered induction level OSH programs and communications, designed by OSH professionals and delivered at a level which even I find difficult to understand.
Please note: In order to show compliance with legislation and free themselves from liability, unfortunately it has now become common practice for employers to ask, or coerce, new employees to sign documentation stating that: they have had and understood OSH training. This legislation has also led to a large number of unscrupulous ‘OSH training providers’ who basically sell OSH certifications to anyone who is willing to pay.
In terms of importance, unlike the other recognized, essential functional-skills: Numeracy, ICT and English, if you make a mistake due to lack of OSH literacy skills and awareness, you rarely get a second chance to address it and the consequences to you and others can be deadly or seriously life-changing. The statistical, negative consequences for this oversight (not recognizing and teaching OSH literacy as an essential life-skill literacy) in educational planning are both tragic and alarming:
‘Every 15 seconds a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease. Every 15 seconds 153 workers have a work-related accident. Every day, people die as a result of occupational accidents or work-related diseases – more than 2.78 million [recorded] deaths per year. Additionally, there are some 374 million [recorded] non-fatal, work-related injuries and illnesses each year, many of these resulting in extended absences from work. The human cost of this daily adversity is vast and the economic burden of poor occupational safety and health practices is estimated at 3.94 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product each year.’ (International Labor Organization‘ (I.L.O.) 2017),
According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2017 statistics, the amount of people who die annually from workplace accidents and diseases is more than those who die globally from AIDS (approximately 1 million), Malaria (429,00) and Road Traffic Accidents (1.25 million) combined! However, only a small fraction of the amount of time, effort and resources goes into raising public awareness and developing preventative educational programs to combat workplace deaths, diseases, injuries and losses compared to those other high-profile caues.
Data analysis also shows that poor communications are a root-causal factor in a significantly high number of all recorded OSH incidents globally. The highest-risk group are those within their first twelve (12) months of employment. Some estimates put the figure at more than 50 % of all recorded OSH incidents within this group. There is no data currently available to show the amounts of deaths, diseases, injuries and losses which occur in the home or in public places due to poor OSH communication skills and awareness.
Nevertheless all the available statistical-data strongly suggests that there is a concrete-link between the amount of people transitioning from education to employment with neither OSH literacy skills nor subject awareness and the alarmingly high numbers of people who have OSH related incidents within their first twelve (12) months of employment. There are a number of causal factors as to why teenagers are particularly accident prone, especially when they enter into new and hazardous environments for the first time. The data also strongly suggests that we are tragically failing in our our duty-of-care responsibilities to help this demographic safely and successfully transition from childhood and education to adulthood and employment – on a massive scale.
OSH literacy.org advocates that as stakeholders, we all have a duty-of-care to work collaboratively and to ensure that young people are equipped with at least some basic, functional OSH literacy skills and awareness prior to them encountering OSH information for the first time at work, at home and/or in public spaces. We cannot simply continue to assume, or hope, that these young people will somehow be able to identify, access, utilize and comply with OSH communications without any prior education or experience relating to it.
Over the years OSH literacy.org has initiated numerous outreach projects across the globe. These have also shown that for a number of reasons, employers greatly value potential employees with OSH literacy abilities. Having accredited OSH qualifications, even at entry-level, greatly enhances an individual’s employability and advancement prospects. In addition, teaching OSH literacy in the safety of a classroom allows for individuals, who may have difficulty with this literacy, to be identified early so that remedial actions can be taken to safeguard them and others from potential harm and losses. Basic OSH literacy training can also provide a strong foundation for life-long learning and persons who have gained OSH literacy skills and OSH awareness can cascade these skills and knowledge within their families and communities.
Recognizing, raising awareness, structuring and teaching OSH literacy as an essential, functional life-skill can provide a simple solution to make current and future education to employment ecosystems (and OSH communications) safer and more cohesive. It would also provide a tangible, life-long educational, economic, social, safety and health benefit to very many people.
OSH literacy.org is only a small part of a much larger movement to have OSH mainstreamed into education systems. The European Network for Education and Training of Occupational Safety and Health (ENETOSH) was started in 2005 by Dr. Ulrike Bollman, a world renown educational scientist. Based in Germany, the network now has nearly 100 institutional members from 38 different European countries. In addition, there are affiliates from all over the world. It is a highly respected international organization. All of the world’s major Safety & Health organizations support the network’s primary goal of having Safety & Health mainstreamed into educational systems from kinder-garden through to university and life-long learning. Individual and Institutional membership is open to all non-profit organizations and the membership fees are optional. There are nearly 1000 examples of best practice in its freely available database and membership gives like-minded people, educational establishments and other organizations the opportunity to network and work together to achieve our common goal. Please take a moment to have a look at the website: www.enetosh.net and join this progressive movement as either an individual or institutional member.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it was of interest to you.
Dave Magee. (Founder: OSH literacy.org) contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org
OSH literacy is a fully-compliant non-profit, NGO. It is registered on the Governance Code’s ‘Register of Compliant Organisations’
‘We confirm that OSHliteracy.org has met all the requirements set-out in the Governance Code for Voluntary and Community Organisations’.
OSH literacy is an official ‘Institutional Member’ of ENETOSH (European Network Education & Training Occupational Safety & Health). We are the only Irish institution to be a member of this prestigious body: www.enetosh.net. In addition to developing and delivering bespoke courses, OSH Literacy.org is also 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. OSH literacy is a registered training organisation for the ISSA’s Vision Zero training courses. We are also 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. We are also proud to announce that OSH Literacy.org has now signed a contract with Routledge Publishing (part of the Taylor & Francis group) to produce OSH literacy training materials.