Communication is key

Communication is key

We chat to Lindy Scott, founder and creative director, and Mathew Goncalves, co-founder and chief of research and development, at Amber on the role that communication plays in the health and safety field, and discover how the company can help you to formulate the right message.

Amber, a subscription-based health and safety (H&S) communication software, has been designed to enable safety professionals to see H&S communication through a fresh and creative lens. Although it is a global platform, the first phase is built for Africa with an emphasis on mining and large labour industries. The platform also includes a free tier, aptly named Amber Free, which provides a place where users can download print-ready resources that focus on public health and safety – including HIV and Aids, mental health, as well as Covid-19.

What role does H&S communication play?

Health and safety communication is critical. Communication that is clear, simple and engaging within organisations
forms one of the pillars of good safety performance. In
many countries, like South Africa, most workers’ first language is not English, which adds a layer of complexity to communication.

How has it changed over the years?

More importance has been placed on how communication happens, not only what is communicated. As more focus is placed on the fourth industrial revolution and the skills required for the world of work in the future, there will be a greater need for non-technical skills, such as emotional intelligence, empathy or understanding body language. There is a rise of semiotics and semantics in safety communication. Workers are far more visually literate and express their views when images, campaigns or messaging are problematic. There has been a shift from top-down communication to increased consultation and participation of workers in policy-making, insights and feedback. ISO 45001 is a good example of this change.

With the increase in visual communication, mobile phones, advertising, instant messaging and social media, workers are bombarded with content and information. As we move into the future of safety communication, we need to concentrate on building relationships, asking for feedback, and having serious conversations. Misunderstanding critical information or the fear of speaking up can be the difference between life and death.

Can it change a safety culture?

Communication and organisational culture are interlinked. Good communication that provides feedback and information sharing can create trust and openness that are fundamental to building a positive safety culture. There is, unfortunately, a bad reputation in health and safety communication of “a blame culture” and secrecy when things go wrong. Research is being conducted into how to build cultures and organisations in a way that focuses on learning, and better communication is certainly a step in the right direction.

What challenges are organisations facing?

The challenges we identified with regards to H&S communication and culture were that many safety professionals and operational teams were unfamiliar with the importance of semiotics and often the graphics produced were very confusing. If there was creative support available from a marketing department, we found that sometimes the content produced can be over branded, have little emotion or be slow to produce. We noticed that there was often friction over branding and colours, which is why we looked to solve this in Amber.

In terms of artefacts, we noticed a lack of female representation in visual communication and very little high-quality, African-centric content. High-quality content can be expensive and slow to produce. Many safety professionals working in remote areas did not have access to high-quality creative skills, and exposure to communication tactics was often limited.

The challenge of how to bridge the work-as-imagined/work-as-done gap is a global one. Feedback from workers about the different pressures and realities on the ground is pivotal in understanding the gap.

How can Amber help?

Amber focuses on the following sections: branded creative health and safety campaigns; exposure to non-technical skills; communicating the context of an organisation; and workshops designed for participation and consultation of workers and leadership.

Are there any trends that you are excited about?

There is a shift from simply communicating to workers to having a dialogue and continuously learning with them.

Communication tactics are becoming more eco-friendly, inclusive and socially conscious, and creativity is taking centre stage. If we look at the many campaigns created during the Covid-19 pandemic by governments and workplaces, we start to see a more informative and human-centric approach to health and safety communication. The inclusion of visuals, storytelling and language diversity will increase. Representation is a trend that will continue to grow.

Health and safety communication is also starting to have bolder and more frequent conversations on topics like mental health, suicide or gender-based violence. Safety communication will become more holistic and not only focus on production risk. There is an increase in research conducted from a social science perspective that will continue to bring fresh insights.

What does the future hold for H&S communication?

The future of health and safety communication has been changed forever since Covid-19. The awareness of fake news, conspiracy theories and collecting information from only credible sources will need to be managed. The future will have a humanistic and environmental lens, accompanied by technological support. As technology helps production become safer, the risks will shift, and safety professionals
will need to be able to manage a forever-changing
workplace.

Published by

SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
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