Safety First: Tweet, Tweet

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook can help spread the safety message.

Unless you live under a rock, you are probably aware that social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are exploding in popularity. Your teenage children (and maybe your parents) are on Facebook. But what do social networking sites have to do with improving safety in the solid waste industry?

Social networking sites are a new and evolving way of communicating with employees, the public, elected officials and customers. Although many safety and health professionals are part of the Baby Boom Generation and may resist using these sites, both Generation X and the Millennials are very comfortable using them. More than 70 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds have a personal profile page on a social networking site, and that number increases every month.

Several companies in the solid waste industry are using social networking sites to communicate that safety is important to them. Waste Management (WM) posted information on Facebook in July congratulating one of its Pennsylvania transfer stations for achieving 1,000 days without an accident or injury. Through this new outlet, WM informs others in the industry, its customers and regulators about its safety successes. This supplements traditional communications efforts such as press releases.

I use LinkedIn to communicate with safety professionals and solid waste managers about a variety of legal, regulatory and safety topics. For example, I have posted information about several recent fatal accidents to LinkedIn's solid waste safety group. Each post started a discussion involving multiple participants that went on for days.

Similarly, when someone in Europe posted incorrect information on LinkedIn last month about New York City's disposal of solid waste, I posted accurate data, and participated in a lengthy and international discussion about waste, recycling, composting and environmentalism.

NSWMA and WASTEC have started using social networking sites as well, and their websites aggregate the Twitter posts of their members (it's really cool - check it out). NSWMA also is creating a Slow Down to Get Around page on Facebook to communicate with users about this important safety message.

Facebook users are usually younger adults, the same people who are more likely to be texting or talking on their cell phones while driving. Thus, they pose a serious risk to solid waste employees and others. Despite NSWMA's efforts, being struck by a motorist was the most common cause of waste collection employee fatalities in 2009. If tweeting about it every day helps save someone's life, I'll do it!

The solid waste industry is not full of early adopters who flock to the latest technologies, but social networking isn't a fad. While particular sites may come and go, social media is here to stay, so take advantage of it. There is a wealth of information on these sites. Some of it is not useful, to be sure. Some people are just selling or are self-absorbed.

But many safety professionals and others in the waste industry are using these sites to network, obtain and share information, and connect with peers all over the world. Participating in the discussion can add value to your professional growth, help your company, and reduce accidents and injuries in the solid waste industry.

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David Biderman is general counsel for the National Solid Wastes Management Association. He oversees the organization's safety programs.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at [email protected].