What is Mapping?

There are three types of mapping: Body Mapping, Hazard Mapping and "Your World" Mapping.  These are tools that are being used successfully by unions and workers, and other community organisations around the world to identify and address occupational (and environmental) risks in workplaces and communities. 

They are simple to use and fun for those who use them.  Equally important, though, is that these tools have been shown to be very effective in gathering information and helping ordinary workers do something about the risks which affect their health and safety.  There's no need for expensive consultants, complex questionnaires or intrusive medicals. All you need is a group of workers, some butcher's paper, some pens and some coloured stickers or sticky notes.

See also this page on the Labor Notes website: Using Maps to Identify Health & Safety Problems 

The three types of mapping:

Body Mapping

Body mapping involves a group of workers putting coloured dots on two outlines of the human body (front and back) to gather information about the health problems they are experiencing (illnesses, injuries, aches and pains, and so on). 

Body mapping is a perfect trade union tool because it not only identifies workplace problems, but does so in a collective way, so that patterns are identified among a group of workers and can be tackled as a group, rather than an individual having to argue alone about workplace injuries. The more workers there are reporting the same symptoms, the more likely it is that the working environment is a factor.

Hazard Mapping

Hazard mapping involves a group of workers drawing a 'map' or physical layout of their workplace or work area marking in workers and hazards.  These maps can be very rough.

Hazard mapping helps workers to visualise their workplace and its hazards.  It can provide them with documentation to present to their employer, Health and Safety Committee, union or WorkSafe Inspector.

"Your World" Mapping

"Your World" mapping helps workers to identify the effects of work and its hazards on their lives.  Like Body and Hazard mapping, a group of workers collectively mark out one or two effects that work has on their personal life.  By doing this as a group, workers can see that work affects workers in similar ways and that their experiences are those of others too.

The three types of mapping exercise are explained in more detail below, together with instructions for the person conducting the activity.

Why use mapping?

We all know that "a picture is worth a thousand words", but there are a number of other reasons why mapping has proved to be so useful for workers and their OHS representatives.  Mapping:

  • involves workers, and shows them they are not alone;
  • is participatory and develops a collective approach;
  • encourages discussion and analysis;
  • uses the experience and knowledge of workers to get detailed pictures of their work conditions;
  • allows workers to see that their health problems, and issues related to basic security, workplaces and Iives are connected;
  • is more easily and widely understood than most other forms of information;
  • helps to overcome problems of literacy and language differences;
  • is simple and enjoyable to use.

Who can organise mapping?

Mapping can be done by a health and safety representative with his or her Designated Work Group (DWG) members.  It's important that the group of workers should be workers who do the same or similar work, and that the members can interact with each other easily while doing the mapping.  

Mapping can also be done by a union official or a union trainer.

Confidentiality and security

Mapping works best when workers feel safe and comfortable that the information they are about to reveal cannot be used against them in any way.  Workers will be more open in discussing issues when they are in groups of workers only, with a facilitator they can trust, such as their OHS representative.

It is important that the workers know that:

  • participation is completely voluntary
  • it is up to them what they reveal
  • no names or any other means of identification are to be used on the maps – so everyone's privacy will be protected
  • everyone agrees that they will not reveal any personal information to anyone outside the group.

It will also be important for the group to decide and agree to whom the completed maps may be shown.  They could be shown to:

  • the workers and the facilitator only
  • other worker groups or a worker OHS Committee
  • other union representatives
  • the employer
  • a WorkSafe inspector
  • the media
  • be published.

What happens after the mapping exercise/s?

After doing a mapping exercise, the group then discusses and prioritises the identified issues.  This can either be done after each mapping exercise, drawing some initial conclusions and action points from the individual activity.  It should also be done more thoroughly once the three mapping exercises have been completed.

The OHS rep then prepares to tackle the priority problems with management.