Workplace literacy program in the works

Having established industry safety programs is a start, but what if workers couldn’t comprehend what they were reading?

With that question in mind, Mission’s Dennis Clark has been working towards creating a provincial workplace literacy program, and after a recent meeting with WorkSafe B.C. and the University of the Fraser Valley, that idea is one step closer to becoming reality as both groups forwarded the proposal to senior members of each respective organization.

If successful, UFV would develop the program, and tutors from the university would instruct volunteers with groups such as Mission Literacy in Motion, which in turn teach it to the community, he said.

“There’s no question [this program] is required,” said Clark, who serves as an advisor to WSBC and has worked with the B.C. Forest Safety Council. “Without this program it’s very difficult to drive gains in workplace safety.”

Clark’s goal is a provincially mandated program that new employees must successfully complete — and one that would eventually be offered in high school.

If it gets WorkSafe sanction, this would result in lower employer premiums.

“It’s a win-win,” said Clark.

And it’s not simply a question of translating the documents into another language, he said, noting that in his personal accounting, 70 per cent of workers he met in sawmills were not able to understand the safety orientation forms.

These workers also self-limit their careers, because many will not risk the embarrassment of being found to be illiterate, and therefore, won’t try for promotions even if they are offered, said Clark.