Jen Jackson is a communications adviser who has come to prominence in the occupational health and safety (OHS) sector in Australia over the last 12 months for lots of reasons. She is young, female and talks clearly and sensible – all elements that many do not associate with OHS. Jackson is always worth listening to and her latest public outing was on the Fit For Work podcast (Episode 14).
Part of her advice seems to be to know your audience. It is important to understand who you are talking to and vary your tone and language to ensure that your words are effective, that the audience fully comprehends the important information you are imparting; otherwise its all a waste of time. Jackson suggests surveys and other tools but, in some cases, this may provide too much detail and can seem impersonal. Managers and executives are expected to be “walking the floor” more nowadays and this activity may be a more useful way of understanding the workforce’s expectations.
Jackson also talks about “habituation” being that hazards or communication becomes normalised and so is not given the attention it deserves. A more common manifestation of this is that workers have become complacent. Complacency is often behind the text when people speak about the hazards you walk past being the standards you accept. Jackson says that communication needs refreshing in order to break habituation; many of this blog’s articles echo the aim of making safety communications effective.
However, communication is easier to refresh than are the actions of worker. Refreshing workplace actions involves supervision and enforcement, usually, directly with the worker. This involves time and diligence and many employers look for a cheaper mechanism that avoids these costs and commitments. Often this leads to signage, posters and other campaigns that are far less labour-intensive and far less effective.
Jackson also endorses the use of real language and “human language” which she describes as “incredibly powerful”. All professions and companies develop their own jargon which can be effective within tight social confines but business/nonsense words and phrases are increasingly entering standard business conversations. These phrases need to be called out at the time they are spoken in order to show that the communication is not clear. Some use such phrases purposely for obfuscation so that you are never quite sure if they have committed to something or not.
However this “calling out” also involves a degree of bravery. When one does, the initial feeling is that the questioner is “thick” as they do not understand. People at the meeting or in the group look at you as if you are not playing the game even though it is highly likely that one or two of them also do not understand what has just been said but have been afraid to ask the question. All you are doing is seeking clarity so that you will know what is expected of you and you will know how to do your job. The risk in not asking the question is that you work in a way that is contrary to what the boss/speaker believes they have just instructed, and this can lead to serious incidents in some workplaces.
The Fit For Work podcast seems to be establishing its niche by its weekly frequency and its decent production values. 2017 is likely to be the year of the safety podcasts, particularly in Australia. This growth is to be supported as podcasts are an additional, complementary communication tool on workplace safety. It will be intriguing to watch this development as, currently, the podcasts are drawing from the same pool of safety advocates, researchers and communicators.
Jen Jackson is a good example of a new generation of safety communicators (I am not sure that there was ever a previous generation) who draws on research in non-safety areas and provides a new context to OHS communications. More information is available on her website Jaxsyn.