Look around and it’s obvious we live in a world where texting is king. Statistics back up this perspective:

  • 57% of employers are communicating with their frontline workers via text, according to the 2023 State of Frontline Worker Communication Report.
  • 33% of all adults and 77% of 18-22 year-olds prefer texts over all forms of communication, including in-person, according to the Pew Research Center and International Smartphone Mobility Report.
  • Text is the most used form of communication for adults under the age of 50.
  • According to text messaging statistics, adults under 45 send and receive approximately more than 65 text every day.

As “all thumbs” baby boomers (38% prefer receiving texts) keep retiring and text savvy younger generations flood workplaces, texting as a form of business (and safety) communication is bound to increase.

You can already forget about communicating in the workplace using printed materials. So old-school. Print won’t get read. Only 8% of frontline workers want access to print newsletters, brochures, hand-outs, and reports, according to the 2023 report. Goodbye to the old safety newsletter. Unless you send via email.

Email is the most popular workforce communication channel, with 67% of frontline workers having email access. 

Coming soon

Given these trends and preferences, it won’t be long before at least some workplace safety cultures become highly digitized. Think of the time savings and productivity gains. 

Zoom has 300 million daily meeting participants, up from 10 million in 2019, according to Backlinko. How many of those are Zoom safety meetings — and how many will be in the future? No more pulling workers off the job and filing into a meeting room, where probably half the attendees will be texting and tuning out meeting speakers.

The same goes for safety training. Unless it needs to be hands-on, turn training over to Zoom and webinar broadcasts. No more pulling people off the line. No more downtime for training. Annual OSHA refresher training is particularly suited for Zooming or webinars. Workers can be Zoom-trained during lunch, breaks, or before and after shifts. With the emphasis now on micro-learning in short 3 to 4 minute clips, there shouldn’t be many complaints about coming in five minutes early for training, or staying five minutes after work.

Of course, there is much more to safety cultures than meetings and training. Consultant Tim Ludwig, author of the book, Dysfunctional Practices that kill your Safety Culture, defines a safety culture simply as “people talking to each other about safety.” Which brings us back to texting. Texting is how people talk to each other today. Some estimates have people sending and receiving more than 85 texts each day. People negotiate via texts, resolve conflicts, propose marriage, break off relationships, plan outings, diners, breakfasts, reminisce, offer congratulations, send regrets for missing out, gossip, criticize, cajole, and build relationships. It’s the passive-aggressive alternative to face-to-face encounters. No wonder Psychology Today titled an article, “Are You Hiding Behind Your Texts?”

A safety culture could have various designated text chains of employees exchanging thoughts, opinions, ideas on the values of the safety culture, its mission, strengths and areas for improvement. Safety updates, alerts, rules and policy changes, results of audits and hazard hunts could be texted instantly to the workforce. And employees would immediately be able to text back their feedback. Given the popularity of texting, a safety culture could see increases in engagement.

Coaching is an essential component of a safety culture. Imagine the convenience if coaching one on one was done via Face Time. It’s not necessarily a turn-off to generations enamored with Face Time. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said 15 to 20 million FaceTime calls are made daily. 

Let’s look at key components of a safety culture and how they could be digitized:

  • Leadership is often declared the number one “gotta have” component of a safety culture. A digital safety culture could feature monthly podcasts with senior leaders addressing safety issues. Everyone listens to podcasts today. Almost two-thirds (62%) of 12+ year olds in the U.S. have listened to at least one podcast – that accounts for about 177 million people. As of January 2023, there were 3.02 million podcasts, according to ExplodingTopics.
  • Empowered employees. participation and employee ownership are also key aspects of a safety culture. What helps here is that as many as 67% of employees use their personal devices for work (BOYD). Using your own phone is of course empowering, increases participant and gives a personal sense of ownership
  • Methods of identifying and controling hazards is made easier when workers can instantly send texts and videos reporting hazards they’ve just come across, and their ideas for controlling the hazard.
  • Safety policies and procedures can be updated and put in front of workers via texts, with links to the full policy or procedure.
  • Ongoing communication is a given the ubiquity of texting.
  • Education and training, as described earlier, lend themselves to Zooming.

Wait just a minute…

To be sure, a certain amount of selling is going to have to occur to get employee and management buy-in for digitized safety cultures. Consider:

  • 67% of front line workers still have access to face-to-face communication. Even among the youngest employees (age18-24) 56% want to receive face-to-face communications. We are social animals after all, and old habits and thousands of years of shaking hands, looking someone in the eye, and reading body language die hard.
  • Let’s be real: There’s no getting around the dangers of texting. In addition to the perils of texting while driving, incidents, injuries and even fatalities have been reported when distracted texters took their eyes off the work environment for even five seconds, resulting in: falling, walking into something, crashing a company vehicle, hitting a pedestrian with a forklift, heavy machinery incidents and standing still and being hit by something (in the line of fire) and getting an arm or leg caught in elevator doors.
  • Productivity is also at risk. According to a 2019 survey, workers spend 1.4 hours each workday accessing digital content unrelated to their jobs. Some estimates put personal use of digital content as high as three or four hours. A new form of presenteeism: I’m here but I’m texting my yoga instructor.
  • One more sobering note: according to the 2023 Frontline Worker Communication Report only 35% of workers want safety updates communicated to them. That ranks down there with news about organizational promotions. What employees really want covered in communications (67%) is news about benefits. Money matters usually outdraw safety topics.

Bottom line

Statistics provide ample ammunition for digitizing safety cultures. The technology is obviously there, as well as growing popular acceptance of said technology. But… there exist significant reasons  l egacy face-to-face practices, the notion safety requires the human touch why digital safety cultures could have a rocky road to acceptance.