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Can visual literacy reduce workplace accidents?

Manual work and artistry may not seem to go hand in hand, but new research indicates that using artistic concepts could help keep workers safe.

The Campbell Institute released research that shows training employees in “visual literacy” can help them identify hazards they previously wouldn’t spot. Visual literacy is the ability to gain understanding through images instead of words. Typically, individuals learn this skill at an early age, but the study wanted to determine if adults could learn it and use it for safety purposes.

Practical knowledge

The study used this concept in a live workplace environment. They trained 225 employees at a Cummins Inc. manufacturing site in this concept and those employees identified 132 safety issues afterward. Using these elements of visual literacy, they submitted and corrected 25 hazards through the company’s hazard recognition initiative.

The Toledo Museum of Art first introduced the idea that visual literacy could improve occupational safety in 2015. The museum worked with several area companies and launched a pilot program to see if visual literacy training could improve employees’ ability to identify safety weaknesses.

Empowering employees

Those who champion this concept believe visual literacy could help improve awareness among employees who have worked in a space over the long term. The Campbell Institute study noted that, for example, a machine operator may look at the same workspace and equipment day after day for years, and eventually they may stop noticing finer details such as worn surfaces or loose gears.

Learning visual literacy could help you identify weaknesses in your own company’s safety compliance, helping you reduce the risk of a workplace injury. While you should not have to be fully responsible for your safety at work – that is your employer’s job – having better awareness of your surroundings can help you make empowered decisions that are in your control.