Young people with dyslexia may be at higher risk of work injuries

August 17, 2009 (Toronto, ON) – Young people with dyslexia may be at greater risk of getting hurt on the job, according to a new study from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH).

The early indicators are that dyslexia contributes to higher injury rates among young workers, says IWH Scientist Dr. Curtis Breslin, who led the study. It could be that the particular problems with reading, spelling and writing that characterize dyslexia make it more difficult to understand and remember safety training or contribute to poor supervisor-worker communications.

The study was published in the August 2009 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (vol. 99, no. 8, pp. 1423-1430). It is one of the first to look at the relationship between learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and job-injury rates among young people.

The researchers gathered their information from the 2003 Canadian Community Health Survey compiled by Statistics Canada. They compared information on learning disabilities, ADHD, school status, work, work-related injuries and personal characteristics such as age and gender among more than 14,000 15- to 24-year-olds who had worked at some point during the previous year.

After taking into account other factors that could explain a higher injury rate — such as being male, being out of school and working in a manual job — young people with dyslexia were still 1.9 times more likely to be hurt on the job than those without.

The same was not found for ADHD. Young people with ADHD, after taking the same demographic and work-related factors into account, were at the same risk of work injury as their peers without a learning disability or ADHD.

Breslin believes the association between dyslexia and injury rates underscores the important role of the education system in workplace health and safety.

The accommodation of diverse learning styles found in schools, where learning disabilities are a high-profile issue, drops off the map in the workplace, he points out. That leaves the education system in the best position to improve the literacy of all students, including those with learning disabilities, so they can get the most out of the training they receive in the workplace.

Nonetheless, employers should also be aware of the need for different training and communication styles in the workplace, Breslin adds. People with dyslexia typically do not tell their employers. They would rather do their best with the learning disability than ask for help because of the stigma, he says. Yet this is an issue in the workplace, as this study shows.

He suggests health and safety training incorporate the principles of universal design and make materials usable by all people, regardless of their age, ability or situation, to the greatest extent possible.

Breslin calls these findings “preliminary” because the number of young people with dyslexia who had also experienced a work-related injury was relatively small. However, he believes the association between dyslexia and injury rates is meaningful, and certainly an indication that a larger study is needed.

Notably, the study also confirmed an earlier finding of Breslin’s that young workers who are no longer in school, whether they obtained their high school diploma or not, are at in increased risk of work injury. The study points to an 80 to 86 per cent higher risk of work-related injury among out-of-school youth.

A conclusive finding of this study is that school status is related to work injury, Breslin says.

For more information on dyslexia, contact: the Canadian Dyslexia Association (

For more information on ADHD, contact: the Centre for ADD/ADHD Advocacy, Canada (

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives.

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