Communicating safety through new technologies

On 3 May 2010, I was privileged to be invited to be a plenary speaker at the 2010 conference of the New South Wales Minerals Council.  My presentation was entitled “Some new ways of talking about safety online”.  I discussed the use of some of the new online communication methods but ultimately came to the point that safety is most successfully communicated when the information is valid, relevant and delivered by someone trustworthy.

An extract of my presentation is below and an audio recording is available at the end.  Please note that there are some swear words in the presentation.

“These new technologies are basically about communication and I am here to discuss how these technologies can be used to communicate safety information.

Two important elements are in that sentence – information and communication.  Let me take information first because this is sometimes the overlooked element.  The new technologies are worthless without new information to access.  This information could be data that has not been available in a digital form previously – back issues of newspapers, magazines, annual reports, risk assessment reports, instruction manuals – a whole raft of data.  Much of this is being digitalized so that indexing and search capacity is introduced to paper reports that exist in archives in air-conditioned sheds in Franakerpan South.  Some of this can be invaluable to safety professionals where seemingly new hazards and situations appear but in reality a similar issue may have turned up in 1962 in Franakerpan North.  Increasingly, I believe, we will see that many of the “new” concepts of safety management are really old concepts that have been rebadged and repackaged to sound new.  Digital information can provide a deeper knowledge base which can assist us in making better decisions.

I think it is important here to acknowledge one of the reasons why the digitization of information is important.  More and more businesses and corporations are losing their corporate history and organizational knowledge.  We are less likely to pay attention to the wisdom of our elder employees because there are more modern ways to access what many think is new information.  We are told that in the modern world we may have five careers through our lifetime in different industries and needing different skills.  This can mean that we suck up information from one place, churn it into a marketable form that we then use to get our next job.  The continuity, the knowledge, gets lost from  the organization.

Digital information can exist without the personal, without the greedy, without the animosity or turf wars of office politics.  But, and it is a big but ———- that information needs to have integrity.

The other important element is communication.  All of the new technologies are methods for communication, they are not the message.  Let’s have a look at some of these communication options.

Twitter provides messages of less than around 140 characters.  What safety information can be provided in such a restriction? Not much.  You could send tweets like “Don’t forget to wear your hi-viz vest?” or “Are your boot laces tied?” or “Have you done a risk assessment?” but after a very short while the reader will ignore such messages as, although they relate to safety, they are condescending and become a nuisance.  What Twitter can do best is refer the reader to other important safety information.  It can be a signpost.  A tweet may be something like “Safety Alert: vehicle recall – more information at ………” with a link to the alert on your intranet.

I tend to consider Twitter as an internet version of SMS or texting on your mobile phone…….”

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories audio, business, communication, media, OHS, safety, technology, UncategorizedTags ,

2 thoughts on “Communicating safety through new technologies”

  1. Very nice article on communicating safety through new technologies. One technology I think needs more consideration for internal communication is SMS or text messaging technology. SMS provides the perfect channel to communicate pertinent information to your mobile work force. At Globaltel Media, we\’ve adapted our managed SMS solutions to go beyond blanket mass messaging to enable two-way texting with users. This provides a much more dynamic method of communication, so organizations can better serve both internal workers and external users by collecting relevant actionable information in real time. Not to mention, if there is one thing your employees wont\’ forget to check, it\’ll be their mobile phone. Thanks again for the excellent article.

  2. Twitter aside, digital records and instructions may be a better way to go for many in the workforce. Functional literacy is a problem for about 20% of employees – and people with poor literacy tend to be concentrated in high risk, \’down in the dirt\’ occupations.
    I\’m quite excited about the potential digitisation has:
    Lets take the local council gravel pit as an example – employer says they have to do a daily risk assessment – so they look around and tick all the boxes on their RA form. Then they\’re supposed to do a toolbox talk and induct the guy who\’s new on site. The truck driver who drives the tipper isn\’t impressed – \”Yeah mate, I can see the overhead powerlines down the road, yeah, the track\’s a bit greasy from the rain overnight, – can we get this over with? What do I have to sign?\” It al gets a bit repetitive and meaningless – apathy creeps in.
    Now if gravel pit leading hand was provided with a handheld device – which would record visuals of the work environment, voice records and a simple risk assessment interface – maybe there would be more meaningful compliance with safety procedures – and maybe on that particular day the bank of wet gravel wouldn\’t hit the \’spotter\’ guiding the tipper into the quarry as it slid down into the gravel pit.

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