Social networking: does it have a place in OHS?

by 15 Mar 2010

WorkSafe Victoria’s got 183 Twitter followers. WorkCover NSW has 1,600. The “Justice for Brodie Panlock” Facebook group has over 6,000. People are social networking, but can it improve workplace safety?

In late February, WorkCover NSW launched its own Facebook profile ( WorkCover chief Lisa Hunt said the page’s purpose was to use “social media to reach a broader audience to get the workplace message out”.

One of the first posts WorkCover promoted was its new online safety educational game, Hazard-A-Guess, which is part of its attempt to raise awareness of work safety amongst younger people.

WorkSafe Victoria meanwhile used Twitter recently to inform its followers that a “26-year old man died this morning at a factory in Bayswater. He was using an electric press and found by workmates around 11.30am.” However, in general, it appears to have used it as a marketing tool to push information.

But this only harnesses a small part of social networking’s potential. What about in the actual workplace? Can it be used to improve safety outcomes in an organisation occupied by hundreds or thousands of workers?

Social media commentator Stilgherrian told OHS Professional that social networking tools like Twitter and Facebook could be viewed as “just hi-tech versions of the ‘out of order sign’ on a piece of equipment.”

“If there is a safety issue, or a way of learning about how to handle a situation more safely, then social networking may allow workers to directly communicate that information amongst themselves, rather than rely on a central source to produce the new handbook.”

While this may not be applicable to certain organisations, depending on the prevalence of networked fixed or mobile devices, it could, he argues, help address the identification and subsequent awareness of a risk that could not immediately be addressed.

“So, if you had a blog or place where people could just post information about hazards in the workplace they could inform each other, and could know about it until such time as it could be fixed,” he said.

More recently, social networking’s broader application within OHS has been its use to help raise awareness of workplace bullying following the fines issued to the owners of Cafe Vamp and staff who had taunted waitress Brodie Panlock prior to her 2006 suicide.

In terms of better safety outcomes, members – in particularly those new to the workforce – who joined the “Justice for Brodie Panlock” group, headed up by Queensland-based Judy Wallace, may now be aware that the state has a workplace safety regulator, and the fact that WorkSafe Victoria does offer advice on how to handle workplace bullying.

Wallace, who had posted links to bullying sites, only became aware that WorkSafe had information to help victims deal with the issue after she had launched the group. She has since posted a link to the relevant WorkSafe page, and advised members that NSW offered similar services.

Interestingly though, WorkCover NSW has yet to join the group, which would offer it contact with the demographic it intends to reach via the launch of its profile, while SafeWork Victoria cannot, since it lacks a profile altogether.

Wallace has also used Facebook to build support for her push to have Australian OHS laws toughened.

Outraged that the perpetrators of the bullying were only issued fines, Wallace set up a petition, which she hopes will convince the Federal Government to conduct a review of OHS laws, provide clearer guidelines on what constitutes psychological abuse, amend criminal and anti-discrimination laws, and introduce mandatory counselling.

But while the group now has over 6,000 members, just 353 had visited the petition webpage at the time of writing, and only 124 people have signed the petition.

As one signatory to the petition recently wrote: “I'm the 104th person to sign the official petition. There’s over 6000 members and I'm number 104. Eh I'm missing something here???”

- Liam Tung. This article first appeared in OHS Professional


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