Is international safety affected more by company or country culture? This was the topic of the most recent HSE Leaders Connect event on Tuesday 13th June and boy was it intriguing to hear what the safety community thought.
The room of delegates combined hundreds of years of experience and a vast wealth of knowledge within the industry and ranged from directors within Petrochemical, Manufacturing, FMCG, Pharmaceutical and Construction. Three speakers were lined up to look at different angles of international safety. Jason Leonard talking about company culture and implanting across countries, Barry Evans giving us a personal view point of working and living internationally, and Barry Wilkes from NEBOSH who was there to explain how NEBOSH are trying to close the skills gaps and create an international competency matrix.
Jason Leonard, now at WM Morrison, has 25 years of experience working internationally ranging from Centrica, Standard Chartered Bank, Total, Nestle and Morrisons and as a result I don’t think there could be a more suited individual to address the issue. Jason explained the issues surrounding different expectations which include the important question of what is more important – country culture or company culture? It was soon apparent from the experience that Jason shared with us that local expectations, local standards and legislations are not enough and what we should be focusing on is a good international practice. One way to address this would be to engage with the employees in the local regions in order to get them on the same page as other teams across the world. As an example we were given the example of how different countries may use fire exits in different ways, Jason was able to show the audience photographs of fire exits he had witnessed on his travels. Some were right next to the main entrance or exit, some were obstructed with chairs or in storage rooms where as others had trap doors with ladders that were spring loaded going down onto the street below (for those that are struggling with an imagination – a spring loaded ladder from a trap door going onto a busy street below. Yes the people may be able to get out of a burning building perhaps but someone on the street below may just get a whallop in the head from a ladder!).
The way Jason addressed these issues are to find the levers that drive the workforce to work safely. For example using the USP’s of each location in or order to make a difference. While Jason was at SCB he went to a college in Chennai, India. The team and students were so pleased to see him that they decided to show him a fire drill… All 7,000 at the same time! A photograph from the drill showed that the students were actually stood still and not being able to exit the building because it just wasn’t logistically possible! Being a college however, the students and team showed how eager they were to learn. Using this USP Jason was able to help them adjust and put in new fire drill procedures.
Another aspect to take into consideration are the practical indicators. Ranging from low energy lightbulbs in Nepal, Asbestos management services in Africa and cultural sensitivity. Now for those that don’t know, only 17% of Nepal gets electricity and there is no Asbestos in Africa. So for there to be procedures or cost saving to be made there would be no need for low energy light bulbs in Nepal because they wouldn’t make a real difference. When it comes to cultural sensitivity we were enlightened by Hong Kong and vanity screens!
In a nutshell… We must admit there is no single strategy globally and it is too difficult to try and impose one so a flexible framework must be adapted in order to address each issue would effect each location individually.
Next up was Barry Evans. I have known Barry for a little while and at the moment is working on a project at Twickenham Stadium. Barry spoke to us about how the UK was an evolution and Qatar a revolution. I myself have lived in the Middle East so a lot that Barry had to say I can seriously vouch for! When I moved to Dubai I actually did not know what to expect, I had never driven on the wrong side of the road and I had only been somewhere that hot for a holiday. I could never imagine that one day I would be living there. In Barry’s case, before he moved to Qatar he didn’t even know where in the world it was or what language they spoke. He had seen pictures of big 4x4 cars and camels… and he thought to himself that he didn’t like the idea of going to work on a camel but he took the plunge and moved. This was at a time that Qatar had so much money that they wanted to be the best that there could be, they thought they could buy it – but they couldn’t. Barry explained his expectation of the role, what the living conditions were like, worker conditions and the language barrier or communication. In Barry’s experience the language barrier was not an issue, because there is another universal language and that is of humanity. A simple smile, a hand shake or something as easy as a thumbs up for someone adhering to Health and Safety can really make a difference. The journey that Barry took us on was a journey of relationships that he had built, the trust gained, success and the lessons learned.
From Qatar Barry went to Oman where he became a local celebrity for various reasons including being arrested by the police! In Oman he came to realise and see that there is a serious passion for safety and that people do actually care. What Barry showcased was that there are many cultures but one common language. The things to consider are:
- Are the employees willing to engage
- Does their posture show confidence?
- What relationships do they have with other employees?
All of the above ( In Barry’s opinion) are key indicators of mental wellbeing. In order to address these the advice is to:
- Smile and greet
- Ask the individuals how they are and how they are getting on with their task at hand
- Remind them that you are there for them (it is the purpose of your job)
Overall the message from Barry about his experience overseas is this; Safety is simple and global, its people that make it complex and the important thing is to find that common ground to find that balance. As HSE Professionals we are a support function and sometimes have to be the moral compass of the company.
Last but not least was Barry Wilkes from NEBOSH. For those that don’t know, The HSE Recruitment Network are officially partnered with NEBOSH and their NEBOSH Diploma Alumni group so we were honoured to have Barry at the first official event in conjunction with the partners. I’m sure you will all agree that there needs to be a global recognition of health and safety professionals. Thanks to the hard work of Barry and NEBOSH we are now working towards one – INSHPO, The International Network of Safety and Health Practitioner Organisations. This is a global framework of practice to align best common practice within health and safety. This is in its early stages but NEBOSH are hoping this will be ratified and rolled out globally from September.
After the three fantastic speakers we left to have drinks and mingle with the members all of which had thoroughly enjoyed the event. Chris Rowlands officially announced that the next event would be held on the 21st September at Anfield Stadium, home of Liverpool Football Club! I for one will definitely be looking forward to that including the site tour. The topic will be on Event Safety and Security, if you are interested in joining the HSE Leaders Connect community please do feel free to get in touch with the team or myself.