Poor literacy levels a safety hazard for Canadian workers

    OTTAWA, Oct. 20 /CNW Telbec/ - Canadian organizations invest heavily in
occupational health and safety training and new equipment to protect
employees, yet they spend little on upgrading the basic skills and literacy of
their workers, according to a new Conference Board report examining literacy's
impact on workplace health and safety.
    Conference Board survey data has shown that employers spent 10 per cent
of their training budgets on occupational health and safety training. But
respondents said they spent just two per cent of the budget for organizational
training, learning and development on literacy and basic skills upgrading.
    "Low literacy skills in the workplace do more than just threaten an
organization's productivity and competitiveness - they also put workers'
health and safety at risk," said Alison Campbell, Senior Research Associate,
Organizational Effectiveness and Learning.
    "If workers can't understand health and safety regulations provided to
them, or if they can't understand their rights to a safe workplace, there is
an increased risk of incidents and injury."
    International survey results show that more than four in 10 Canadians in
the working-age population do not have the literacy skills needed to perform
most jobs well.
    The Conference Board's survey research also reveals an inverse
relationship between industries requiring a high level of health and safety
and investment in literacy skills. With the exception of the wholesale and
retail industries, the primary and construction industries spend the least
amount per employee on developing literacy and basic skills. Transportation
and utility sector spending on literacy and basic skills training ($4 per
employee in 2006) is also a fraction of that spent in industries such as
information and communications technology ($32 per employee) and financial
services ($13 per employee).
    Some sectors are trying to raise literacy levels - the Construction
Sector Council, Canadian Trucking Human Resources Council and the Wood
Manufacturing Council have initiated programs to ensure that workers
thoroughly understand common job hazards and basic safety practices.
    This report, All Signs Point to Yes: Literacy's Impact on Workplace
Health and Safety, outlines the preliminary results of a two-year Conference
Board research project, "What You Don't Know Can Hurt You", supported by Human
Resources and Social Development Canada.

For further information:

For further information: Brent Dowdall, Media Relations, (613) 526-3090
ext. 448, corpcomm@conferenceboard.ca

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