WorkSafe tries a new promotional approach

The increasing prevalence of pictorial social media has generated a surge in organisations generating “infographics” from workplace health and safety statistics Almost always these images are a technique for generating internet traffic through established websites, blogs and other online services. Fundamentally it is stealth advertising for the unwary online user. However, such images have much greater legitimacy when offered by OHS regulators.

In the week prior to its WorkSafe Week 2012, WorkSafe Victoria issued two online infographics as part of a media statement. Both are attractive by their simplicity but the simplicity can also be a problem.

The cost comparison infographic is super general but clearly illustrates that the cost to prevent harm is much less than any fine that may come from prosecution. However, the risk of being prosecuted in Victoria and receiving a monetary penalty seems to be declining as non-pecuniary penalties, such as enforceable undertakings and others, are made available to the Courts.

Fines are only one of the potential costs. An inescapable cost is the cost to the injured worker, the disruption to that worker’s family life, the disruption to the worker’s employer.
Earlier this year SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on comparative injury cost data that showed the worker continues to carry the majority of the cost burden from workplace injuries.

“Between 2001 and 2009 (latest available data) the total cost burden on community stakeholders, such as taxpayers and compensation scheme participants, has reduced by 32% (from 52% to 21%)

  • 6% of this decrease shifted to those employers responsible for the workplaces in which these injuries/illnesses occurred
  • 94% shifted to the injured workers and their families….”

An infographic showing the total (estimated) cost of injury may be more enlightening and could assist in motivating employers to initiate positive safety changes in their workplaces.

However part of the purpose of this infographic is to complement a media release available on the WorkSafe website where additional information is available, particularly good information on how to make machine operations safer. Terrific information but the risk with the infographic strategy is that the image becomes the story and the “hook” to feed back to the webpage with the message is less important.

In social media, it seems that pages with images gain greater visitor numbers but whether the visitors read the webpage is difficult to prove. Often pages with images have higher statistics because people are trawling the internet for an image, through image-specific search engines. No matter that SafetyAtWorkBlog contains thousands of words about safety and over 1,500 articles, the most popular individual page remains one containing a cartoon on bullying and no other information.

The map of pain

The second infographic relates to a “map of pain”. This illustrates the suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria that have the highest rate of machine-related workers’ compensation claims. The infographic is interesting but what does it tell us about reducing workplace harm? Very little.

Over the last few years, WorkSafe Victoria has been trying new strategies in the online world and the pain infographic may be part of a strategy to provide content to the online news services. It may also be an acknowledgement of the newspaper industry’s move to online and the desire to spoonfeed, particularly, the remaining suburban newspapers.

The pain image also says much more about the economies of suburban Melbourne that anything about safety improvements and harm reduction. Significantly the City of Greater Dandenong residents received over $A20 million in workers compensation from just machine-related injuries since July 2007. Interesting from a sociological perspective but will it change workplace behaviours? Unlikely.

WorkSafe Victoria is probably the most effective of all Australian OHS regulators for their online presence but it, like almost all safety regulators, is missing discussing the emerging OHS issues in the online media. Machine-related injuries are from well-established risk areas and are relatively simple to map, but the issue of workplace bullying has not been given the same social media attention even though the major workplace bullying issues over the last few years have been within the internet-savvy demographic. The website containing the infographics above has nothing on workplace bullying and nothing specifically on fatigue, yet bullying is a substantial fear for new young workers and fatigue seems to underpin many OHS incidents, including machine-related incidents.

Only the other day, an OHS legal specialist described these “soft” psychosocial issues of fatigue and bullying as the hardest workplace issues to manage. In much of the OHS discussion, the soft issues are missing and yet it is on these difficult matters that the conversation needs to begin in order to develop effective strategies to combat them. How different machine-related injuries may have been now if, in Victoria, the infographic communication strategies above had been applied when the Code of Practice for Plant was revised from the prescriptive to performance base in around 1995. Yes the internet was not in existence then but it is now, and OHS regulators need to start discussions now so that when the emerging hazards finally do “emerge”, the regulators and business are in a strong and knowledgeable position to act.

OHS regulators need to realise that more context is often required to maximise the benefits of both online and traditional communication methods. You may not be able to control how the information is used but you can ensure that the information is authoritative and seen by the audience as valid and relevant. WorkSafe Victoria’s attempt is refreshing and promising and should lead the way for other safety regulators.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories bullying, campaign, communication, economics, fatigue, government, hazards, innovation, OHS, psychiatric, safety, Uncategorized, WorkSafe

7 thoughts on “WorkSafe tries a new promotional approach”

  1. Kevin, I couldn\’t agree more. Collective data on workplace injuries and incidents in Australia is scant at best and these results from pretty minimal regulatory requirements for injury and incident reporting in both the H&S and workers comp legislation. Generally there is a requirement to report only after someone\’s been hurt or almost been hurt in a pretty bad way. Compare this with the OSHA reporting standard and it\’s easy to understand why the Americans can conduct much of the research that they do. I don\’t know about the requirements in the UK.

    The variation in making judicial judgements publicly available across jurisdictions indicates that its not only H&S law that needs to be harmonised 🙂

  2. Kevin re the grounds of ethnicity ,,consider that many workers and potential victims do not have english as a first language .
    Workcover in media campaigns I have seen are targeted to conversant english speakers ,there would be a growing number of people from many countries not fully conversant in english to understand ohs promotions
    This involves their safety and legal rights
    An example of this would be the requirement of employers to have a poster informing employees to report injuries, failure to have this poster results in a fine I ,ve never seen this poster from workcover in any thing but english ,ask workcover how many requests they have for this poster in other languages .
    ohs videos guess what language .
    If poor communication of the risk can be a factor in injuries then people who may not have been in this country long enough to acquire sufficient english would be at increased risk also many more of them would be exposed to labour intensive roles

  3. Kevin, as you say, WorkSafe Vic is probably the most active regulator on the Internet and while there is always room for improvement what they do is highlight the safety message in topical and original ways that are a little out of the box. I just wonder when you\’re going to stop carping about their failure to provide an in-depth analysis of incident causation extending over a multiplicity of possible contributing factors and preferably in less than 30 seconds and in a way that captures interest. It would be nice to see you give them a pat on the back for at least trying to get some public interest in the matter which is more than any other regulator is doing.

    1. Dave, I think Australia has a comparatively low level of OHS research and yet there is an increasing expectation for policy and corporate OHS decisions to be made on evidence. I think it is reasonable to request more information from OHS regulators. I think it is also reasonable to keep asking for OHS data from sources other than workers compensation claims.

      This blog has always reflected my belief that it is essential for OHS to be considered int he broader social contexts. WorkSafe Victoria\’s very successful Homecomings ads are based on social values and not legislative compliance and, I think, support this blog\’s broader social context. Clearly the regulators see some workplace change coming through non-workplace pathways.

      I also think that there is a large amount of OHS-related information in existence that is not being shared for various reasons. I would suggest that the lack of detail from OHS prosecutions in the Magistrates\’ Courts in Australia is one example. This court is where a large number of prosecutions occur and many in the small business sector. Opening these court cases and judgements to the same reporting and scrutiny as cases in the higher courts may provide a better understanding of OHS risks to small business operators.

      Thanks for contributing

  4. Kevin is there information on how often fatigue is a factor in the msd injuries, the next question I would ask was the safety training assessed to confirm if it was sufficient as a factor in these injuries.
    Also the background of the victims, age group ,ethnicity ect was anything looked at along those lines to identify trends .
    congrats for the recognition well deserved

    1. Mick, I think these questions are important but the current WorkSafe approach does not include a detailed analysis of the data. I would like to see a sociological analysis so that, amongst other issues, workplace safety or injuries could be provided a better social context.

      The map of pain provides info in one very focussed criteria and shows how a broader case could be made for the local social and economic impacts of workplace injuries. As I suggested, the high cost burden on workers could be one of those correlations.

      I would be cautious on grounds of ethnicity as that has less relevance than literacy and numeracy and could lead to unhelpful stereotyping.

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