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.
* 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.