Title

Communicating workplace safety and health: Disrupting OSH messaging to embrace diversity via digital media and innovate around the social side of safety

Author Identifiers

Kelly Jaunzems

https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7007-4871

Date of Award

2021

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Arts and Humanities

First Advisor

Lelia Green

Second Advisor

David Leith

Abstract

The communication of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) information within the workplace is an essential element for a successful, resilient, and productive OSH system. Organisations are legally obliged to provide information, training and instruction to their employees and contractors, in a way that is easily understood. Even so, individual organisations decide how, when, what, or where OSH information is communicated. Communication channels favoured by OSH professionals have not changed or advanced significantly over the past 20 years, despite substantial developments in technology and individuals’ evolving communication practices. Indepth interviews with management executives, OSH professionals, and employees who work on-the-ground, from multiple industries and organisations, have highlighted disparities and misunderstandings between those creating and communicating information, and the employees expected to understand and implement it. An overreliance on email, and a failure to understand employees’ communication preferences, has the potential to render internal OSH communication strategies ineffective. With reference to employees’ experiences, this research has produced guidelines and recommendations regarding effective ways to communicate safety and health information. It is anticipated that these recommendations will lead to buy-in, commitment, and engagement with the wider workforce.

Social media is noticeably absent from the list of channels currently used to disseminate OSH information to everyday workforces. Despite the extensive use of social media in similar industries such as health communication, OSH practitioners, safety organisations and workers’ unions have failed to adapt their communication practices to include these channels. It is essential to develop an understanding of organisations’ social media communication practices and the factors effecting audience engagement if an organisation wishes to use social media to effectively communicate with their audience. The research reveals that there is insufficient information available regarding the construction of social media messages for communicating OSH information to audiences. Rather, social media research has previously been approached predominantly from a marketing perspective. There was a clear need for the development of a model to help organisations improve their communication strategies using social media. Additionally, the work resulted in a communications-driven model to support researchers in analysing social media messages from an OSH perspective. This research has informed the development of blueprints for a Social Media Communication Process, and a Social Media Communication Formula to support the analyses of social media-based OSH communication, allowing OSH practitioners the opportunity to create social media messaging and communication campaigns that are primed to engage audiences around OSH topics.

The project also investigated the social side of safety and health: how employees create, shape, and manage shared perceptions of workplace safety and health. Knowledge of how perceptions are formed, how they can be influenced, and how OSH practitioners can encourage constructive conversations around safety and health in the workplace can deliver important workplace benefits. As Marshall McLuhan first argued 57 years ago, “the medium is the message”, and the ways in which OSH information are communicated are just as important as the information provided. Importantly, the communication of OSH within a workplace, and the resulting workforce perceptions, are inextricably linked with an organisation’s culture.

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