Social media’s potential untapped in OHS communications

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 18 March, 2022 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

While health and safety information plays an important role in organisations, it often fails to engage employees, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

The study investigated OHS information in the workplace and whether it was read, understood, taken on board, internalised and enacted.

It found most companies use email to convey OHS information, but it is not the most effective method or preferred by employees, and social media’s potential remains virtually untapped.

The effective communication of OHS information to all levels of employees was an essential part of keeping people safe at work, said Kelly Jaunzems, a research assistant at ECU whose PhD research examines how organisations can adopt social media for OHS communications.

“Working safely depends upon the successful sending and receiving of relevant information, in accessible, easy to read formats,” said Jaunzems.

“If that information is not received, not understood, misunderstood, not implemented or actioned, then an organisation has not complied with the legislation.

“And most importantly, ineffective OHS communication jeopardises workers' safety,” she said.

Jaunzems said a top-down hierarchal approach without consultation with employees could result in workers taking less personal responsibility or accountability for their own personal safety, with potential flow-on effects to their colleagues.

“Employees were particularly cynical about the dissemination of OHS information, with many having adapted to a lack of effective communication with a concerning nonchalance.

“They wanted OHS communication to improve. But they felt their communication preferences were often ignored, with channels chosen according to organisational convenience.”

Employees also emphasised they wanted OHS communication tailored to reflect the urgency, amount and type of information.

“It depends on multiple factors, including the position (level and profession) of the employee, whether they work at a desk or in the field, their education level, background and experience,” said Jaunzems.

“Also important was the amount, type, relevance, urgency and applicability of the information being communicated.”

Jaunzems said other industries, such as health, were already making use of social media platforms for communication to staff, however, OHS practitioners were yet to use this tool to their advantage.

“Social media has the potential to add significant value to an organisation’s OHS communications strategy,” she said.

“OSH information can be communicated in impactful, meaningful ways that encourage engaged, active two-way conversation.

“Humorous content, such as that included in ‘safety fails’ can encourage higher levels of engagement, especially among hard-to-reach younger audiences.”