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A recent study in New Zealand finds that illiterate workers are not able to fill out hazard reports because they don’t understand their employers’ health and safety policies. The findings may resonate with workplaces in Georgia where many foreign workers lack the language skills to fill out reports and understand job safety policies and instructions.

The study involved 466 employees of 23 New Zealand businesses, including manufacturing, hospitality and warehousing. Of the employees, 60% did not understand their employers’ safety and health documents.

The researchers noted that many of the documents contained very complicated language or fine print. Many of the workers lacked the literacy skills to comprehend them.

The researchers wanted to understand how lack of literacy prevented workers from filling out hazard reports. They asked 206 employees to complete a hazard report based on a scenario. Only 20% of the workers managed to understand and complete the form. Of the remaining 80%, half were able to provide some useful information in the report but left out important details. As many as 19% of the workers were unable to finish the form or provide important information.

There are lessons for Georgia employers in this study. Hazard reports and other job-related forms must be easy to understand and designed to take employees’ limited literacy into account.

Michael Parsons is an Atlanta workers’ compensation lawyer representing injured workers in the metro Atlanta region and helping them recover the workers’ compensation benefits that they have earned.