The use of social media for information transfer regarding occupational safety and health
Wioleta Klimaszewska, Central Institute for Labour Protection - National Research Institute, Poland
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Brief guide how to use some social media for occupational safety and health communication
- 3 A short guidelines how to maintain existing profiles in the most often used social media
- 4 The most important elements of blogging
- 5 Conclusions
- 6 References
- 7 Links to further reading
Occupational safety and health (OSH) content in social media are created by institutional and individual authors. They are mainly institutions appointed to manage safety at work which create profiles on social networking sites and use this informational channel to popularise their message, contact the recipients and partners, conduct discussions or collect opinions. Representatives of such institutions keep blogs and micro-blogs which popularise OSH issues and encourage the recipients to react, comment and add their own information. Social media are incorporated into occupational safety campaigns to reach a larger audience with a broader message.
(…) Today, many different types of communities are creating their own responses to the tilting they see in their worlds. The web and other digital technologies give them new methods to create and express their stories, distribute them and make access more open and available to people across the globe. My question is, how can social marketing help them do it better and with broader impact?
- C. Lefebvre 
A communication of occupational safety and health (OSH) issues in social media is in most cases governed by the same law as the promotion of other socially important topics. It may be even stated that the introduction of OSH issues to social media requires the use of communication and marketing strategies applied in commercial activities, especially when it is important to maintain the attractiveness of form and the content. OSH institutions that use social media usually have profiles on the most popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. They also use RSS (Really Simple Syndication, a family of web feed formats used to publish frequently updated works such as blog entries, news headlines, audio and video in a standardized format). Blogs related to OSH are widely used in the USA where they are kept by public institutions, enterprises, as well as individuals whereas in Europe they are rather rare.
To ensure an effective communication, organisations and institutions dealing with occupational health and safety, employers and all parties interested in these matters have to design informational actions which can be implemented through social media. Not only brands and products, but also social initiatives and their authors may gain greater recognition through them. There is, however, the darker side of the coin: improperly carried out actions not only will not disseminate information, but they may also be very harmful. In social media, the dynamics of events is much greater than on other communication planes. Thus, before joining the digital revolution, it is important to arm yourself with knowledge — all the more so as there is no other choice as this trend has already reached most Internet users and everyone who wants to approach them has to follow it.
Some occupational safety and health organisations already use social media but many others are not using these tools yet, either because of perceived or real lack of resources, cultural resistance, or legal or other barriers. The decision to engage with social media is very important and has to be made by the management team with input of all stakeholders. Full understanding of the chances and challenges is necessary in the process of implementing social media tools as media for distributing occupational safety and health information.
At the beginning, websites should be mentioned, though seemingly pushed into the background, as compared with social media. In fact, they constitute a base where entire information resources relating to the profile’s author/owner — kinds of knowledge library — are located. After efforts have been made aiming at facilitating the use of the website and improving its user-friendliness, a step forward should be taken in order to be able to easily recommend it to others. Including an RSS channel or submitting the website to popular sites such as Twitter.com or Blip.pl considerably facilitates sharing information and building the group of users.
Websites of many international and national occupational health and safety institutions are good starting points to implement social media.
Examples of institution and organisation websites that provide extensive and credible information however have not used social media yet:
- International Labour Organisation (ILO)
- International Labour Office Network of International Occupational Safety and Health Centres (ILO/CIS)
- The European Chemical Agency (ECHA)
- The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
- The European Network of Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (ENETOSH)
- European Network for Workplace Health Promotion (ENWHP)
There are institutions that maintain websites and use some tools like RSS. An example is ‘Business Europe’ (that uses RSS and publics electronic newsletter, as well as the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in the United Kingdom)
While planning the presence in social media, you should find answers to several basic questions:
- Above all — who will be the recipient of communications?
- How does the institution work? Is it open for interactions and contact with the recipients?
- What does it want to communicate?
- How frequently will communications be released?
- Who will be the partner of communication actions?
- What crisis situations may result from the presence in social media?
It is important for the occupational safety and health institution to establish structure, rules and leadership to manage social media more effectively. It is also necessary to specify what position you want to assume — whether it will be the role of the expert, scientific authority, teacher, trust organisation, etc. While deciding who will be the target of particular communications you will also need to specify the ways in which you will reach the recipients. Another important aspect is to take into consideration cultural matters — not everything which performed well in other countries will be perceived well on our ground.
A participation in social media would be a part of a larger integrated occupational safety and health (OSH) communications programme or project which includes communications science clearance, strategic planning, research and evaluation.
Participation in social media from the position of the content author requires the knowledge of and conformity to the following rules:
- As with any effective communication, messages developed for dissemination through social media channels should be accurate, consistent, and science based. Information which is supposed to be more visible than other information published in social media should have certain features: be simple and short, limited to the most important facts, written in a simple, unambiguous and understandable language. Its message must be clearly understood by the recipient.
- The message should draw the recipient’s attention. Complex content discourage the recipient from engaging in them. The content should be covered with several words only — keywords or phrases. Equally important is the form of information, overcoming common schemes, equipping the message with interesting graphical or audio-visual elements.
- You should pay attention to the visual uniformity on all used social networking sites — this applies to the logo and institution graphics, as well as to the clarity of presented contact data and the possibility to identify a given profile as the official profile of the organisation.
- Certain types of information are designated for certain recipients only — you should target specifically them instead of sending information to all recipients.
- You should carefully select places where you plan to locate your information. It may turn out that on the most popular social networking site the message will not have any chances to beat other, more attractive ones. In such a case it is sensible to consider another address or time of displaying information.
- Information which is not disseminated will not be effective. You may consider choosing several social media, split the message and publish it on different websites; you may use the network of partners or friends to disseminate it. However, you should remember that you should ask people to share content published by you and tell them how they can do that. Nevertheless, this should be as simple as possible.
- You should always react to behaviours of the recipients of your messages published on the Internet — you should also pay attention to whether content published by you arouse interest among the recipients. Lack of comments may be alarming — it may be a signal that you should change something in your communication strategy.
- Research on the dissemination of information on the Internet suggests that most information processed and reinforced by users of social networking sites originate from traditional media. Traditional media trigger a conversation on a given topic, users of a website filter it and spread content which are of interest for them. This argument doubtlessly suggests that you should care for traditional media and supervise their transfer into social media.
- Learning lessons from the way of functioning of the organization in social media, maintaining dialogue with users, as well as an ability to accept negative opinions are necessary to make communication effective and trustworthy.
Selected examples of institutions and social media tools used by them:
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA): Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and YouTube as well as RSS, blog, and electronic newsletter
- European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound): Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and YouTube
- European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC): Facebook, Twitter and Flickr
- World Health Organisation (WHO): Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and RSS
- International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM):Facebook and Twitter
- Danish Federation of Trade Unions: Facebook
- Estonian Employers’ Confederation: Facebook
- Health and Safety Authority (HSA) in Ireland: Twitter, YouTube, and RSS
- Finish Institute for Occupational Health (FIOH): Facebook and Twitter
- Safety and Reliability Society (SaRS) in the UK: Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety: Facebook, Twitter, RSS, and podcasts
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH),USA: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, podcasts, blog and RSS
- Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, USA: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn
- Women in Safety Engineering (ASSA) USA: Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In
- American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), USA: Facebook and Twitter.
A comprehensive approach to the participation in social media will doubtlessly contribute to trustworthy communication. Below certain clues can be found — they include guidelines for keeping a profile on Facebook and Twitter, as well as opening a blog.
Successful communication on Facebook
Facebook allows to share occupational safety and health updates and to develop an active and participatory community, as well as a new activity or space in a social networking site. The channel can be also used to promote occupational safety and health messages. There are a few general rules that are important if you would like to have the Facebook page:
- Facebook serves above all as a platform for building long-lasting relationships with its users, thus it is sensible to create a long-term communication strategy. Practically, this requires proper budget, human resources and time management.
- Knowledge of the recipients and their environment is a key to success of the undertaking which consists in carrying out an informational or promotional action on Facebook. It is equally important to realise what needs of the recipients and their environment may be met by the profile owner. For example: is the institution able to quickly and clearly respond to messages and questions posted by the users or will administrative procedures make the users wait long for information? Is the institution ready to receive critical comments from its clients and able to react to them in a proper way?
- Focusing on a particular target group will make it possible to achieve best results and adapt activities to its nature and expectations. A message directed to all recipients is likely to arouse only limited interest. Those recipients who come from the profile to the web site of its owner should receive informational support, e.g. contact with an expert. Publishing contact data is another element which supports trust and reinforces trustworthiness. A user who knows that he or she has the possibility to contact the profile owner will feel a kind of bond and will be more willing to come back onto the web site.
- It is sensible to make sure that the activity on Facebook is positively perceived and that users are willing to engage in contacts with a particular profile. If something in this aspect goes wrong, a revision of the assumed action strategy or methods is certainly required.
- Separate visualizations may be created for particular undertakings. These may include a logo designed especially for the undertaking, but also a photograph or a not quite professional picture. When they are placed in the ‘Site’ or ‘Events’ section, they draw attention and encourage the users to become fans of the announced undertaking. The author has the possibility to directly contact the fans. This produces an opportunity not only to easily communicate, but also to create a particular group and to maintain interaction that is beneficial for the undertaking.
- Viewing the way in which other institutions manage similar actions may be inspiring and enlightening. All case studies and success stories from that field are worth recommending.
- Promoting a Facebook presence is strongly recommended: you have to include a thumbnail and link on high-profile topic-specific pages, include a thumbnail and link in campaign materials, send emails to partners and grantees as well as post a promotional message on the Twitter accounts.
- During every informational campaign on Facebook, the effectiveness report should be monitored, on the basis of which it is assessed whether the satisfactory number of clicks has been reached. It is especially important in the case of publishing paid advertisements. Facebook provides tools which help the profile owner to track the effectiveness of drawing the recipients’ attention. The reports include above all such factors as: the number of clicks, CTR (Click Through Rate — an index which measures the relationship between the number of clicks of a web user on the advertisement and the number of it being displayed), Action Rate (an index which shows what part of users who made the fist click performed also the post-click action) and CPC (Cost Per Click, the cost of a single click — the advertiser does not pay for the advertisement being displayed but only for the number of users clicking on it). In case the effects of establishing relationships with Facebook users are insufficient, a good step would be to add variety to the strategy by means of the so called Landing Pages, i.e. special subpages of the web site whose task is to check the effectiveness of a paid advertisement. It may be assumed that users will become “advocates” of the web site and information conveyed, and that they will attract new recipients.
Examples of OSH communication on Facebook:
- Napo Consortium created a Facebook page for NAPO, the hero of popular OSH cartoons
- A campaign ‘How to be a good work mate and contribute to the common work environment’ prepared by an insurance agency in Finland
- ‘A well-being at work’, theme page prepared by the Centre for Occupational Safety in Finland
- ‘Promotor’, a Polish magazine on OSH issues has a page on Facebook where it provides news and discusses with users
- The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, the government agency focused on eliminating workplace illness and injury, has a Facebook page, where more than 1000 members exchange best practices for employee training, details on safety-specific events.
- National Safety Council (NSC), is an organisation which prevents injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the roads, through leadership, research, education and advocacy. Its Facebook page provides news, discussions and pictures. 
Microblogging on Twitter
If you want to know what people really think about OSH issues, your institution and your products, Twitter is the best place to collect these opinions. Similarly, if you want to communicate something in a brief form – news, opinion, recommendation, advice – Twitter will be very helpful:
- Accounts on Twitter make it possible to quickly find and identify the institution therefore they should always be of high quality. Inactive accounts should be quickly deleted.
- It should be clearly stressed that a given profile is the official profile — it is sensible to add a description of the institution or company to it. If the account is local, this fact should be clearly presented. Accounts of the same institution in various countries should look similar. For the purpose of the wholeness of information, a link to the company’s web site and its e-mail address should be attached to the account. The background of the profile may have a colour taken from the company’s graphics.
- A Twitter account should not just contain rehashed news or press releases from your area: if users wanted to read that, they’d go straight to the website. Personalise the information and make it accessible with a distinctive style. Tell your followers something different and add pictures and links to what is unusual or different about your business. Keep your content, short and simple. The recommended length for tweets is 120 characters (including spaces) to allow messages to be easily retweeted without editing.
- Users appreciate: easiness of finding the account, being “heard out”, obtaining quick answers to questions, good interaction and (non-official) friendliness, as well as information on the institution and its products, including advice on their usage, not official data.
- It is sensible to see to a verification of the account by Twitter.
- Information should be promoted also on the account – not only through a link on the web site - but also by placing the logo in other materials. It is also sensible to see to a large number of followers.
- No post should be ignored. Answers to posts should be simple and non-patronising. Frequently asked questions may be answered in a way which makes them visible to other users. If a problem or criticism is highlighted, don’t let it fester, but respond quickly and positively.
Examples of using Twitter for OSH communication:
- The European Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry informs on new documents, important economy events, labour market in EU, financial issues etc. on its account.
- The European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) provides users with information on events, publications, as well as opinions and comments. Colours and graphic works of Agency’s campaign is used as a graphic background of the account
- The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in Ireland regularly informs users on news such as articles and events.
- British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) informs on events, trainings, new reports, important dates, calls for paper etc
- The Institute of Occupational Medicine (IOH) provides information on new researches, reports and statistics, as well.
- The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety uses its Twitter account to update followers on stress reduction, handling negative workplace interactions, and government regulations, as well as e.g. risk assessment forms.
- Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, USA provides information about the contents of the magazine and other news.
The most important elements of blogging
Blogging is a great way to generate publicity for your idea, institution or activity. Write about occupational safety and health (OSH) issues that you know the best, about interesting people, events and publications. Let potential readers know why you are different from other institutions and how your activity could be a benefit to them. It is the best place to show your OSH knowledge, professional approach and information resources. Follow some general rules:
- The task of an institutional blog is to inform the reader on matters related to operations of the institution in an interesting way, taking into account the demands of readers. The published information must be current if the readers visit the blog on a regular basis. On account of the functioning of browsers, new contents should appear on the blog two to three times a week. Rare entries make the readers consider the blog abandoned, which undermines the trustworthiness of the author and the institution.
- A blog has to have a ‘personality’ which will attract readers — this very specific aspect is quite difficult to define. This may be the author’s gift of writing or the possibility to find very useful, concrete information on the blog.
- An institutional blog cannot be kept as if it were a private blog. Contents have to communicate the mission, policy and strategy of the institution.
- The owner of a blog has to actively react to readers’ comments and the blog itself has to be targeted at creating a community around it.
- The very important element is preparing the blogging strategy and specifies its objectives. Is the blog designed to inform or educate? Is it to be a web site and provide information? What will its readers look for?
- It is not recommended to publish internal information on the institution, confidential information or innovative strategies, information on problems with contractor or partners. It is not allowed to provide their names or surnames without their written consent.
- Specialist terminology or trade jargon does not have to be used, unless it is justified or published as a citation. If the blog is not targeted at a very narrow group, the contents have to be formulated in a way that is understandable for a wide range of recipients.
- References and links to them should be provided in order to avoid potential problems resulting.
Examples of OSH blogs:
- European Agency for Safety and Health’s blog
- The British Psychology Society's Occupational Digest’ blog
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s science blog
- OSHA Law Blog, a blog of OSH expert from USA
- Corporate wellness and employee wellness blog
- Employee Wellness Blog
- SafetyAtWorkBlog, news and opinion on important workplace safety issues run by OSH consultant from Australia
- Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, USA, a trade magazine and Internet portal on OSH maintains a blog
- National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Malaysia
Social media are rapidly becoming a standard for communication in many areas. Nowadays many organisations decided to choose social networking as their channel to communicate to stakeholder. It is clear that institutions and OSH experts cannot afford to be behind the mainstream of information technology. Social media facilitate the development of relationship between organisation and public, contribute to education and promotion. Their roles grow along with development of modern information technology. Telecommunications companies claim that sending text messages with mobile phones is becoming a thing of the past. Social networking telephones are gaining in popularity, claims Dennis Crowley, Managing Director of Foursquare, a geolocation service, another social media brand which with its 6.5 million users is getting closer to the current giants: Facebook and Twitter. These websites have also had widely available applications for telephones for a long time, but recent solutions are of great significance from the perspective of integrating websites with mobile devices. New, specially designed telephones are to be easier in use and their main advantage is the possibility to combine and divide content regardless of where the user is located. It is only one example of combination of social media and new communication technology. It seems this kind of combination is a future of social media and will be used also for occupational safety and health purposes.
Researches carried out by Barry Wellman, a Canadian sociologist and one of the most eminent Internet researchers, and his team shows that communication via the Internet supplements contacts without eliminating other forms of communication, such as direct meetings or telephone conversations. Moreover, it turned out that active Internet users more intensively participate in political and social life. Workplaces along with their conditions and OSH issues remain real, but the process of sharing information on them through social media has gained a new dimension.
- Lefebvre, C. ‘The New Technology: The Consumer as Participant Rather Than Target Audience. Social Marketing Quarterly’. Volume XIII No.3 [accessed February 2011 from 
- ILO - International Labour Organisation (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from www.ilo.org
- ILO/CIS - International Labour Office Network of International Occupational Safety and Health Centres (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- ECHA - European Chemical Agency (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from http://echa.europa.eu
- EFSA - European Food Safety Authority (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from http://www.efsa.europa.eu
- ENETOSH - European Network of Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- ENWHP - European Network for Workplace Health Promotion (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- Business Europe (2011), Retrieved 16 May 2011, from 
- EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2011, a), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from [www.osha.eu]
- Eurofound - European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- ETUC - European Trade Union Confederation (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- WHO - World Health Organisation (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- IIRSM - International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- Danish Federation of Trade Unions (2011), Retrieved 16 May 2011, from 
- Estonian Employers’ Confederation (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- HSA - Health and Safety Authority (2011), Retrieved 12 May 2011, from 
- FIOH - Finish Institute for Occupational Health (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- SaRS - Safety and Reliability Society (2011), Retrieved 5 July 2011, from http://www.sars.org.uk
- CCOHS - Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2011 b), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2011, a), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- Occupational Health & Safety Magazine (2011, a), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- ASSE - Women in Safety Engineering (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- AOTA - American Occupational Therapy Association (2011), Retrieved 16 May 2011, from 
- Napo Consortium (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- Campaign ‘How to be a good work mate and contribute to the common work environment’ (2011). Retrieved 16 May 2011, from 
- ‘A well-being at work’ Centre for Occupational Safety (2011). Retrieved 16 May 2011, from menAmmattiliittojenKeskusjarjesto#!/tyohyvinvointi
- Promotor [trade magazine] (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- CCOHS - Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2011 a), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- NSC - National Safety Council (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- European Commission's Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2011, b), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from  (2011, b)
- HSE - Health and Safety Executive (2011), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- BOHS - British Occupational Hygiene Society (2011). Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- IOH - Institute of Occupational Medicine (2011), Retrieved 11 July 2011, from [www.iom-world.org]
- CCOHS - Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (2011 c), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- Occupational Health & Safety Magazine (2011, b), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (2011, c), Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
- British Psychology Society's Occupational Digest (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- NIOSH - National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (2011, b), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- OSHA Law Blog (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- Corporate wellness and employee wellness blog (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- Employee Wellness Blog (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- SafetyAtWorkBlog (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- Occupational Health & Safety Magazine (2011, c), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from 
- NIOSH - National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health [in Malaysia] (2011), Retrieved 26 June 2011, from 
- Raice, S. ‘Social media companies grow closer to phone firms’, The Wall Street Journal Europe, 21.02.2011
Links to further reading
‘8 Great Public Health Campaigns Using Social Media’(5 February, 2010). Retrieved 13 March 2011, from: 
Brogan Ch., ‘Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust’. Wiley, Rev Upd edition 2010
Farin K., ‘Social media and their impact on occupational safety and health communication’ (OSH Wiki: ERO-10-06-f.8)
Fouts, J. ‘Social Media Success! Practical advice and real world examples for social media engagement using social networking tools like Linkedin, Twitter, Blogging and more’. Happy About, 2009
IOSH - Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (2011), Retrieved 20 May 2011, from  Rainie, L. ‘Networked Creators. How users of social media have changed the ecology of information. Accessed February 2011 from 
‘Occupational health and safety’. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved 13 March 2011, from 
‘Promoting Health and Safety Through Social Media’. Retrieved 13 March 2011, from 
‘Safety culture’. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Retrieved 13 March 2011, from 
‘Social media’, Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, Retrieved 13 March 2011, from: 
‘Social networks in emergency management’ (17 September, 2009). Retrieved 12 April 2011, from 
Sublet V., Spring Ch., Howard J., ‘Does social media improve communication? Evaluating the NIOSH science blog’. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Volume 54, Issue 5, pages 384-394
Qualman, E., ‘Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business’. Wiley 2009