The Safety Institute’s low profile needs to be seen in a media context

In recent weeks on several LinkedIn discussion forums there has been a series of highly critical postings about the Safety Institute of Australia. (I have participated in some of the discussions.)  Many comments have been unfair but almost all decry the absence of clear communication from the SIA and the very low profile of the organisation within Australia.

The SIA has struggled to gain traction in the Australian media even though the organisation has been in operation for over 60 years.  It seems there is little about workplace safety that is attractive to the general community.  (Who could not be fascinated by James Reason’s cheese?)  But a recent article by Mark Phillips, Communications Director with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, in the May-June 2012 edition of The Walkley Magazine (not available online), provides a contributory factor to the lack of traction.

Phillips identifies a marked reduction in the number of journalists covering what traditionally was called the “industrial rounds”.  Over a decade ago, Phillips says, the major newspaper outlets each had a journalist dedicated full-time to this sector.  Prior to that Victoria’s Trades Hall Council’s influence had generated its own Press Gallery.  Phillips estimates that in  2012, there are only three industrial reporters in Australia.

These reporters focus on the industrial relations argy-bargy that can affect employment, company share prices and Australian politics.  Workplace safety is hardly ever on the radar of these reporters and the SIA is likely to be something they once heard about.  For the SIA, or any other safety organisation in Australia, it is a matter of gaining the attention of these reporters or creating one’s own media content outlet.  The SIA has been unsuccessful on both approaches.

It is at this point that one could expect a blogger to trumpet the new social media options but even there the pickings are slim.  In Australia the BusinessSpectator has a dedicated section for Politics & Industrial Relations but it is largely an aggregator of articles from the AAP or from other sections of its website and partner publications.  BusinessSpectator does not employ any journalist on the industrial rounds, or many other rounds, and most of the IR contributions are volunteered with no expectation of payment.* OHS rarely gets mentioned, and then it is commentary rather than reporting.

So here is the Safety Institute of Australia – a fringe organisation in a niche area of business management, regulation and law.  It has limited resources to establish a media and societal presence commensurate with its longevity and seriousness and there are almost no mainstream media outlets for it to “feed”.  The SIA seems to be in trouble with its communications, member representation and political influence but its predicament should be seen in a broader context of almost no communication opportunities.  Like many other fringe/niche organisations, the SIA will need to be creative in the new media world if it wants to continue to have some relevance past its 70th anniversary.

Kevin Jones

* I tested the waters in BusinessSpectator with a couple of articles reproduced from my blog but as a freelance writer, I needed to get paid for my work so I no longer participate.

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories business, communication, media, OHS, politics, safetyTags , , ,

7 thoughts on “The Safety Institute’s low profile needs to be seen in a media context”

  1. Talking of small, fringe organisations in niche roles have a look at the environmental movement and see what they’ve achieved. Are there lessons for safety people generally and representative organisations in particular in what they did and how they did it?

  2. The Herald Sun in Melbourne publishes the daily road toll can you imagine one done on occupational deaths and diseases on a daily basis by newspapers across the country.
    Then again whats in the newspapers is to often trivial five second grabs not meant to promote discussion anyhow

  3. It’s understandable that fewer journalists are engaged on industrial rounds given that union membership has been in decline for years and now only 18% of the workforce belong to a union. If unions were once the traditional guardians of workplace safety, who is to fill the gap? That’s the challenge for the SIA. I agree it will need to be very creative in the new media world.

    1. I think you are right that the industrial round centered on the unions and, I would add, the Industrial Relations Commissions but I am not sure the drop in union membership equates to a drop in the role of the “industrial round”. I think the journalists needed to move to the newer communication streams rather than inhabiting the bar at the local union watering holes. I think a similar level of information is available but it has shifted from the physical to the virtual.

      This doesn’t mean that there is no demand for a full-time journalist reporting on OHS/IR, it’s just that there may be less wear and tear on the shoe leather.

  4. I am a supporter of the Safety Institute of Australia, and believe that there is a absolute need for what they do. However, I agree their public profile if far too low and it reduces their effectivity.
    In my role I understand the need for positve media attention, and partnering with safety ‘players’ that can shout loudly for the cause. For a stronger voice is a useful voice, and we are all here for the one reason afterall.

  5. Excellent article Kevin
    We as individuals or organisations often fail to determine what the real barriers are.
    I would add that if an organisation has everyone pulling in the same direction the impact of the organisation is greatly increased. A number of senior SIA people have unfortunately initiated acion in ways that have resulted in division and conflict over the past three years – that has not been helpful.

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