Web 2.0, the next “World Wide Web,” offers safety and health pros new ways to exchange information and collaborate online. Now you and your organization can share valuable information in communities whose members may never actually talk face to face. Some Web 2.0 applications you might want to check out include wikis, social-networking sites, blogs, podcasts and other methods that use RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication).

No doubt you have heard the term Web 2.0, but you may not know what it means or how it can be used to positively affect safety and health in the workplace. Like most new things in technology, there are uses for safety and health professionals that you might want to learn more about.

A “wiki” is a site where users create or edit reference material. The best-known example iswww.wikipedia.org, an online encyclopedia updated and edited by users. If you work for a company with an IT department, it will most likely be able to help you set up your own wiki, but if not, there are several sites that will host your wiki for you.

Wikis can be great tools for safety professionals seeking input on safety programs, policies, training materials, presentations, audit results and/or best practices. With an internal safety wiki, you could develop something new and have all affected parties collaborate on the project.

For example, if you were about to start a major new building project and wanted to develop a contractor safety program, you could post a draft, and everyone with access to the wiki could add or edit sections.

MySpace and Facebook
You may have seen social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook in the news. MySpace is generally thought to be more for the youngest of the social networkers and Facebook for those in college. But these sites can be and are used by businesses.

Many companies have set up “groups” on Facebook for the purpose of networking, disseminating information and providing a place for members to chat or post in a forum.

For example, you might want to set up a page or listing for your safety committee members. Each person could build his own profile and then you could use the page to provide updates to the committee.

With any “free for all” sites, you need to carefully control your listing to make sure it works for you and your safety program. Setting up a page in MySpace or Facebook is relatively easy, but you might want to check with your HR or legal department to make sure you are following company rules.

A social networking site geared towards professionals is LinkedIn. If you go to LinkedIn and search under “safety,” you will find others in the safety and health field you might want to connect to. You might not think of yourself as much of a networker, and you might hate to attend dinners and meetings, but with LinkedIn, networking becomes very easy; in fact, you can do it from your desk. LinkedIn can also be useful if you are looking for a new job, hoping to hire someone or checking out someone you are considering doing business with. Again, check with HR if you are considering using it for this purpose since policies vary from company to company.

Really Simple Syndication
RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, allows you to quickly share information you update frequently. RSS documents (called feeds) can be read with an RSS Reader such as Google’s Reader or Bloglines. If you regularly visit multiple websites to see what’s new, you could subscribe to the sites’ RSS feeds instead and have that information delivered to you.

An RSS feed also allows companies and groups to send news your way without requiring you to make the effort to go to them for it.

For example, you might ask others in your company to regularly check a safety department website for announcements and updated training class schedules. Users signed up to receive the feed will be sent the information automatically. Many companies and organizations, including OSHA, use RSS feeds to improve their communication, and most of the RSS feeds also allow you to receive the feed via an email.

Blogs, podcasts and webcasts
Blogs, podcasts and webcasts work similarly to RSS feeds. Blogs are easy to create and can be a great way to quickly and easily set up a simple website. If you want to publicize an upcoming safety and health fair you have planned, you could use a blogging system such as TypePad or Google’s Blogger. One of the advantages of blogs is that you do not need a web developer to update the site for you, and your changes or postings are immediately available.

Podcasts and webcasts also use an RSS Reader, but you listen or watch them instead of reading them. One easy way to subscribe to podcast and webcast feeds is through ITunes. If you are an ITunes user (you don’t need an IPod to use it) and are familiar with “syncing” a player such as an IPod, it will be very easy to get started. As with a blog, you find a “feed” you are interested in and then subscribe to it so it gets sent to your “Reader” whenever there is an update.

Podcasts are for people who don’t have much time to read and are especially beneficial for individuals who spend a lot of time in the car. If you have a large group of field personnel such as drivers, sales reps or even loss-control professionals, you can provide them with frequent news updates, changes to procedures or even information about new programs while they are on the road. Podcasts are also easy to put together, requiring only a decent microphone and a software program such as AudioAcrobat.

Take advantage of Web 2.0 tools

As a safety and health pro, you’re responsible for sharing and communicating a lot of valuable information, and Web 2.0 can help. Learn what is out there and how you can use it to make all your communication efforts easier and more effective.