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The value of social media in OHS

Social media is being used everywhere. As I ride the CTrain on my way home from work, I note 75 per cent of the passengers around me are either on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or YouTube. How do I know? Because I can see the music videos and Ted talks and hear the ping, tone or tweet. We can locate the nearest florist, check traffic jams and interact with family or friends real time 24 hours a day. Blogs and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn are also mainstream communication media sharing tools in our world. I have been thinking about how social media technology could be valuable in a health and safety settings. Is there any benefit from using these tools in our profession? How can we use these evolving tools to provide value in the daily effort to keep workers safe and healthy?

My first question was how many Canadians are using social media and which networks are the most popular. A 2015 study conducted by Forum Research indicates that Facebook is still the top social network in Canada, followed by LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram. The study shows Canadians visit Instagram about six times each week and this network is popular among the youngest Canadians at 32 per cent. What’s more interesting is that 25 per cent of survey respondents use Twitter about five times each week. This network is popular among the youngest Canadians at 36 per cent. The statistics verify social media is here in a big way and will continue to be a significant driver in connecting people and information. Social media can be a valuable tool for health and safety professionals in several functions related to communication, networking and education.

There are both challenges and opportunities associated with the utilization of social media in health and safety and the most prevalent is the lack of competency and experience using the technology. Training OHS professionals to use social media technology will equip them to activate their practice in the new dimension of communication in the workplace. OHS professionals can use social media in the delivery of employee health and safety training. The incorporation of social media technology does not does not need to be complicated or expensive and it can take a variety of forms. Posting a short video on YouTube or writing an informational tweet takes an employee a mere minute to watch or read.

Real-time feedback can prevent misuse because workers do not want to see their company or themselves represented badly in front of the general public. Training via a social media platform can also increase the credibility of internal health and safety professionals. Using in-house expertise on social media platforms can elevate the visibility of health and safety systems and engagement. Social media can engage priority groups, especially young workers. Due to the continuing uptake of social media, it is also an effective way to reach to the high risk groups and highlight and share practical solutions to the risks that workers face everyday in the workplace. Blogs can provide the opportunity to publish large amounts of health and safety information in a variety of media (text, video and audio) in an open forum environment, which encourages engagement and collaboration among end-user groups.

Another example of how social media technology can be used in in health and safety industry was evident recently during the Fort McMurray, Alta., wildfire crisis. Occupational health nurses responsible for workers and evacuees in camps leveraged their local networks using social media to connect with local pharmacists, physicians and emergency responders to meet immediate health needs. Together with the help of volunteers and fire specialists, occupational health nurses were able to resource and triage necessary medical supplies to multiple locations on demand. The well-developed network was even used to reunite anxious parents with children who had been evacuated to other locations and provided real time updates on the need to evacuate locations and access resources.

Using social media technology does come with increased responsibility for organizations and health and safety professionals to ensure the appropriate use of these networks. It is important that organizations have clear policies in place outlining the appropriate use of social media in the organization. A clear policy foundation will ensure everyone is aware of responsible use in all areas including training.

Engagement is crucial in health and safety, and social media technology represents an opportunity to be responsive. The workplace can benefit with the ability to share safety-related information via social media that is convenient, in real time and easily accessible. It’s all about getting the right OHS information to the right end user in the most expeditious method. Social media is demonstrating value in the current and future world of OHS.

Shelly Bischoff

Shelly Bischoff is a senior occupational health consultant with Ptolemy & Associates based in Calgary and an instructor for the disability management course through the University of New Brunswick online Occupational Health & Safety diploma. She is a Registered Nurse, Certified Occupational Health Nurse, Certified Human Resource Professional (CHRP) and Health and Safety Consultant. She provides proactive service to employers in the areas of health, safety, wellness and disability management. Visit www.ptolemyassociates.com for more information.
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