Social media and their impact on occupational safety and health communication
Karolina Farin, Central Institute for Labour Protection - National Research Institute, Poland
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Web 2.0 and social media
- 3 Changes in the way of approaching recipients of occupational safety and health information
- 4 Engaging recipients of OSH information in social media
- 5 Conclusions
- 6 References
- 7 Links for future reading
The Internet has made it possible to create and develop new forms of communication, including social media, which very quickly began to be used for commercial purposes. This way of disseminating information has become popular and has improved not only in the business sphere, but also in the public sector, although here new solutions have been accepted with a greater dose of reserve and mistrust. Currently, social media are used in various thematic fields not only by individuals, but also by institutions which disseminate information from their field through that channel. This also applies to the field of occupational safety and health (OSH).
In the process of development of the Internet, websites appeared in which the fundamental role is played by contents generated by users. Their popular name was Web 2.0 — as opposed to traditional websites which only allowed their recipients to perceive contents generated by a limited number of authors who used a small set of tools for that purpose (so-called Web 1.0).
Social media is a term which is often identified with Web 2.0, although some sources do not agree with that. According to one of the definitions, social media include activities, practices and behaviours of members of groups maintaining an online contact which allow them to share information, knowledge and opinions with the use of conversational media, which make it possible to create and easily share contents in the form of texts, images, video and audio recordings.
Social media may assume various forms. Weiss establishes the form of social media on the basis of their content. He divides them into:
- content sharing websites — such as YouTube (video sharing), Flikr (photography sharing) and Slideshare.com (a website for publishing and viewing multimedia presentations);
- social networking sites — e.g. Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Xing;
- various blogs and micro-blogs, including Twitter;
- collaborative working sites — such as Zoho or Google Docs;
- Internet forums and review sites;
- various websites enabling interaction and cooperation of their users, including websites such as Wikipedia, opinion sites — e.g. Yahoo Answers, SecondLife, Digg or Delicious.
The usefulness of the above mentioned forms of social media depends to a great extent on the audience which is intended to be reached, as well as on their content. Many forms of social media may be used in an attempt to reach the recipients of information on occupational health and safety – employers as well as employees.
Changes in the way of approaching recipients of occupational safety and health information
The use of social media (audio and video sharing, mutual informing in social groups e.g. on Facebook) makes it possible to approach a larger group of occupational safety and health (OSH) information recipients than by means of conventional methods (conventional webpages, distribution of printed materials, organisation of traditional trainings, preparation of advertisement spots on TV).
The number of information recipients, but also creators, is growing. One does not need to be a journalist, a politician or a specialist in a given field in order to disseminate his or her considerations or ideas. In order to receive information on OSH on an ongoing basis and to be able to voice one’s own opinions in the form of comments on initiatives of a given institution, one only needs to have the status of a friend of an institution or a magazine concerned with the topic on a social networking site. As a result, acceptance of the relevance of the websites providing OSH information, such as blogs, Twitter or Facebook, is increasing.
Results of the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer Findings show that trust of the respondents in media in general is growing (from 45% of those polled in 2010 to 49% in 2011). Primary sources where the respondents look for information on a company are web browsers (29% of answers), followed by information from online news sources (19%). Sources which the respondents choose as secondary include: on the first place — information from online news sources (23%), then printed sources (journals, magazines — 17%). In the ranking related to searching information on a given topic, in both cases social media appear on place 7 — as a primary source (5%) and secondary source (7%). (2011 Edleman Trust Barometer Findings, 2011) The findings confirm that social media are reliable sources of information (also information about safety and health at work) for the respondents who spend more and more time online.
The opinion that it is reasonable to exist in social networks becomes so commonly accepted that also educational institutions and public libraries use such solutions as a part of their usual operations. Communication tools as blogs or micro-blogs have begun to be used in organisations which play the role of authorities also in the field of OSH. The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (FIOH), whose entries may be viewed on Twitter or the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA), which has profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, as well as a blog on Twitter, provide good examples.
As the number of Internet users is growing, the major role in winning their trust is played by social networking sites which gather friends. Such sites gather groups of people who think in a similar way and get together virtually in order to share their thoughts, ideas and information on themselves. The example of Facebook shows that such websites may have even over 500 million registered users, which creates vast opportunities to provide information to end recipients. By means of building their positive image and trust, organisations which fulfil explanatory and educational functions in the OSH field]] provide social networks’ users with information on hazards at work. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) acts in that way and is present on Facebook, Flickr, MySpace, YouTube and Twitter. Social networking sites such as Facebook are attended by e.g. the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), the Polish National Labour Inspectorate (PIP), the British Health and Safety Executive (HSE) or the Irish Health and Safety Authority (HSA). The contact between the institution and the individual does not assume a strict form of written correspondence exchange. Users may comment on data published by the institution.
Information on Web 2.0 and social media is being widely disseminated but there is still a need for lobbying to use this means of communication especially among executive officers and organisations which traditionally may be reluctant to changes. This aspect needs to be included in the field of occupational safety, taking into account the fact that the number of non-commercial institutions concerned with OSH which use social media is still not large.
The comprehensiveness of the applied solution plays an important role in effectively reaching the end recipient. The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) — a British chartered body for specialists dealing with the OSH issues with the use of various types of social media — enables users to actively access resources on occupational safety. An interested user only needs to access the website of the institution where there are references to social media which IOSH participates in. The organisation redirects its users to websites of, among others, Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz, Digg, Messenger, Stumbleupon, MySpace, Blogger or AIM Share, where they may view and actively participate in discussions on occupational safety matters The institution, which has 38,000 individual members, uses its whole arsenal of tools and reaches the recipients with the use of various channels, depending on whichever form is preferred by recipients.
A comprehensive use of social media is also represented by the Online Safety Community, created in 2008 by the company Ansell Healthcare, which e.g. manufactures protective gloves and provides other services to, among others, chemical, food processing and pharmaceutical industries, to serve workplace safety professionals. Users interested in activities of the Safety Community can view the community’s entries on Twitter, join it on Facebook, and become its friend on MySpace or its member on LinkedIn, have a possibility to view and discuss photographs and films on the topic via YouTube. The community is free for anyone to become a part of and everyone working in or around the occupational health and safety industry. The Online Safety Community is a platform for its members to pose questions directly to other workplace safety professionals. Because of an easy access the community located in North America boasts members in Brasil as well as in Saudi Arabia.
The factor which differentiates social media from other, earlier forms of online communication, originating from the Web 1.0 period, is the fact that the recipient’s engagement is taken into account. The way of engaging the user in the interaction with the author of information, also from the field of safety at work, may have different forms:
- information sharing (communication),
In the first case — communication with the recipient — the intended effect will not be achieved by merely sending information to him/her by electronic means on an OSH topic. This would be similar to sending a newsletter — a unilateral form of communication at the Web 1.0 level. Instead, with the use of a social networking site, a selected group of people — safety specialists — may be invited to attend a certain action, e.g. to participate in a web survey. A good example of engaging the recipients is by providing friends gathered in a given group on a social networking site with short current news, e.g. with the use of Twitter which is what the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) does.
Collaboration — consists in activating the recipients with the use of such social media which may improve the cooperation between the members of a given group (in the case of trade they are sellers and buyers, in the case of safety they may be institutions responsible for creating safe working conditions and employers interested in ensuring safety workplaces). A measure which enables a cooperation of different groups is e.g. Wikipedia, a web encyclopaedia, in which interested users may enter information on a given matter. In Wikipedia’s resources, a definition of occupational safety and health can be found, as well as other terms related with that, such as hazards in workplace and their types or occupational risk assessment. Apart from that, links and explanations are provided, relating to legal regulations from the OSH field, institutions concerned with the topic, as well as other useful information. Entries in Wikipedia are not definitely specified — their content may be modified by adding new information.
Educating the recipient is also a form of engaging him/her in social media. Such a manner of educating is easier and more dynamic than traditional methods. A good example of educating social media users are podcasts (a series of digital-media files which are distributed over the Internet using syndication feeds for playback on portable media players and computer) with training materials. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published information on podcasts on its website. Podcasts may be regularly subscribed for, they may also be downloaded from an archive available on the institution’s website. HSE’s podcasts concern a number of various topics such as hazards related to asbestos, construction site inspections, safety while using gas installations, and many more.
Podcasts as a method of educating the recipients are used in a funny way by RRC Training (The Rapid Results College), a British training institution operating in the field of safety and health at work. These podcasts are recordings of amusing conversations between OSH experts, guest contributors and a fictional dissatisfied businessman played by John Glover, a popular British comic.
Education is also the objective of instructional film series relating to inspections — e.g. inspections of dangerous chemicals published on YouTube by Safetycare, a British company, which is also present on Facebook.
Engagement of social media users may be acquired by means of providing them with entertainment. The way of only conveying information may be unattractive, especially for the youth. A funny way of providing information has a greater impact on the recipient — this was once proven by enterprises which were able to become more effective in selling their products by launching funny commercials on TV. Their actions generated considerable costs, but this aspect is not a problem anymore in the era of social media. Solutions used in the sphere of business may also be used for promotional purposes in other fields. NAPO – an animated character created by a group of OSH communications professional is an example. The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) uses this character in its campaign for presenting proper behaviour in the work environment Films featuring NAPO are available on DVDs and published on YouTube. Such a way of conveying information may be especially attractive for children — it provides them with education combined with entertainment. What is more, NAPO and his film partners express themselves in wordless language, what makes the films suitable for everyone.
A light-hearted method of conveying information related i.e. to safe behaviours was assumed by Rhythm, Rhyme, Results, an American music producer and distributor. The company is committed to creating entertaining music which also educates the youth. Pieces created by RRR may be downloaded from the company’s dedicated web site designated for schools. Effects in the form of a rap song on maintaining safety while working in a laboratory can be found on the company’s web site.
According to the EU-OSHA report ‘in 2005, 11.1 million young men and 9.3 million young women were working within EU-25. Most temporary workers in EU-25 were under 25. Young temporary workers have lower job demands and are less informed about risks at work’.
The Pan-European opinion poll on occupational safety and health carried out by EU-OSHA showed that in Europe 20% of those polled stated that they are ‘very well informed’ on dangers at work, 46% — ‘rather well informed’, whereas 6% said that they had never been informed on dangers at work.
These answers show that the state of knowledge of safety at work is not perfect and actions should be taken aiming at improving awareness of that field, not only, but especially among young people who start their professional career. Social media could be important for raising awareness, on hazards in the workplace and prevention in this area. The benefit resulting from the use of social media is easy access to information for a wide audience without creating additional costs. Apart from that, the form of the message is more attractive than the traditional one for younger generations who use social media in their everyday life, According to the Pew Internet&American Life Project survey from 2010: ‘Internet use is near-ubiquitous among teens and adults. In the last decade, the young adult internet population has remained the most likely to go online’ and ‘73% of wired American teens now use social networking websites’.
However some aspects of using this media (groups of people excluded, who do not have access to Internet; the issue of monitoring of the content of information provided by users) should be also considered.
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Links for future reading
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PIP – Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy – Facebook (2011), Retrieved 13 June 2011, from: 
RRR – Rhythm, Rhyme, Results, LLC (2011). About Rhythm Rhyme Results. Retrieved 13 June 2011, from: 
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Klimaszewska W., The use of social media for information transfer regarding OSH (OSH Wiki: ERO-10-06-f.9)