OHS Canada Magazine

Feature

Social Unrest

Occupational health and safety is never so complete that it cannot benefit from a reboot. The central message of continuous improvement should remain steadfast, but how that message is delivered need not.


Occupational health and safety is never so complete that it cannot benefit from a reboot. The central message of continuous improvement should remain steadfast, but how that message is delivered need not.

In this era of social media, perhaps more than ever, the medium is the message. Of course, reliance on these tools have attracted supporters and H8Rs alike.

Does transmission of images of teens abusing alcohol and drugs constitute electronic child abuse? Does spending too much time on Facebook draw out antisocial behaviour? And as only The Atlantic could ask, Is Google Making Us Stoopid?

Unfortunately, implicit in the speed of delivery and a near-hysterical desire to instantly consume even the emptiest bits of information, is the potential for messages to be misunderstood or, worse, harm to be orchestrated.

That was never so apparent as the recent rioting and looting in England, fanned by tweets, social networking posts and instant messages used, as a senior police official put it, to “organize these levels of greed and criminality.” But the potential for good was never so clear as during recent storms when community-minded oneness served to mobilize something bigger than individual needs, wants and desires.

And so it should be for health and safety on the job.

Using social media as a vehicle to communicate and gather information – an electronic assembly of sorts – offers tremendous promise. But that only holds true if input is reasoned and relevant; tedious, inane, even divisive griping is less immediately helpful (although it may signal the need for a morale overhaul).

Co-ordination potential may be most clear during disasters, ranging from the work-related (think explosions or chemical spills) to more general (consider tornadoes, flooding and fires).

Sometimes, the two meet. An employee of a salt operation in Goderich, Ontario died after a recent tornado ripped through the community, leaving indiscriminate destruction in its wake.

The American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. recently released the results of two surveys that found social media is becoming an integral part of disaster response. “During the record-breaking 2011 spring storm season, people across America alerted the Red Cross to their needs via Facebook. We also used Twitter to connect to thousands of people seeking comfort and safety information to help get them through the darkest hours of the storms,” says Wendy Harman, director of social strategy for the organization.

When it comes to oh&s, the objective must be improvement – and then more improvement. Inherent in progress, however, is the need to move beyond the current love affair with immediacy to providing useable information that transforms “me” to “we”. Posted input should receive the same care as any e-mail, phone call or letter. The social media medium allows for speed, but not without consequences.

Participation is good; participation based mostly on a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses mentality around the need to say/text/post something (anything) is less so.

Commitment, intent and message must be clear. Consider the circle of play from yesteryear – where a message whispered into one ear, followed by the next and the next – could lead to near-indecipherable goo coming out the end.

A garbled message produces little more than noise, threatening to leave oh&s improvements thumbing it at the side of the road, hoping against hope to hitch a ride somewhere that counts.

Angela Stelmakowich is editor of OHS Canada