Growing Concern in UK About Low Literacy

The Health and Safety Executive highlighted recent studies that indicate 720,000 Britons are studying to obtain literacy qualifications. In the United States, some researchers believe low literacy explains the higher workplace casualty rate of Hispanic workers.

Noting that the ability to read and understand health and safety guidance for workplaces may depend on the reader's literacy level, Britain's Health and Safety Executive has highlighted recent studies that indicate 720,000 Britons are studying to obtain literacy qualifications. In the United States, some researchers believe low literacy explains the higher workplace casualty rate of Hispanic workers.

HSE said the 2003 Skills for Life survey by the Department for Education and Skills (since renamed) found that in England, 16 percent of those ages 16 to 65 had literacy skills of Entry Level 3, the level expected of an 11-year-old, or worse.

UNISON, Britain's largest biggest public-sector union with more than 1.3 million members, has identified low literacy as a fundamental safety and health concern. UNISON reported Aug. 27 that around 3.5 million Britons of working age have serious literacy or language problems.

HSE linked its news release to several current literacy initiatives. The agency, which is the equivalent of OSHA in the United States, says employers must ensure health and safety issues are explained to employees appropriately.

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