Creating the right culture

Fostering a health and safety culture is a big challenge for energy companies operating in the Middle East. In part, this is because the workforce is often drawn from countries where the tolerance of risk is greater, and attitudes to safety vary

The sector is also facing pressure to find efficiencies; the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Investment report found that global energy investment fell by 12 per cent in 2016, the second consecutive year of decline. The pressure to hit targets in the face of continued oversupply and suppressed oil prices can mean that health and safety considerations aren’t always foremost.

Yet for global energy players, health and safety is a massive consideration – impacting on brand reputation, investment and of course, most importantly, employee wellbeing. So how do you develop a safety culture in such circumstances?

In its simplest form, culture is the way in which people do things. A key step in creating a good health and safety culture has to be ensuring everyone has a good grounding in health and safety best practice so that they are mindful of the impact of their actions.

That means providing many different types of training. Training that: equips people to be competent to do a risk assessment; gets all workers to a common standard and shows managers how to safely manage their teams. Organisations also need to develop supervisors’ health, safety and environmental management skills and provide individuals with job specific training for particular high-risk situations.

When it comes to delivery, training needs to take into account the challenge of catering for a multicultural workforce. That can mean using pictures, diagrams, role play and IT rather than just the written word. It’s also important to ensure the training is provided in multiple languages and allow for the differences between employee groups, in terms of their roles and knowledge.

Companies in the Middle East are increasingly recognising the role training can play in developing a health and safety culture. Indeed, NEBOSH’s (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) international registrations now make up 67 per cent its students. The Middle East, where the energy sector is one of the prime industries, represents one of its largest markets.

One of NEBOSH’s international students is Rustam Sadykov. Rustam holds its International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety and, most recently, gained the NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health & Safety in February 2017. Not only this, but his high performance in the qualification gained him a Best Candidate Award at the recent NEBOSH Graduation Ceremony. He is now using his knowledge in a new role working for Royal Dutch Shell Plc at the Pearl GTL (gas-toliquid) plant in Qatar.

Responsible for health, safety, security and the environment, Rustam has around 900 workers from multiple countries to think of. While he is responsible for ensuring goals are met in terms of incidents, leaks and injuries, he is also tasked with enhancing a positive health and safety culture.

“This is a challenge as you often have people on short-term contracts – between three and 12 months – who are from Nepal, Bangladesh, India and many other countries,” says Rustam. “We need to make sure all employees are brought up to speed and working to a consistent, safe standard.”

For Rustam, whose earlier experience includes working within the energy sector in Russia, prevention is vital. “That means implementing things which are understandable to people. For instance, you must train and encourage staff to look around the workplace for hazards or risks which could harm themselves or a colleague, and then get them to think about how that could be prevented.” He elaborates: “One of the techniques I use is to encourage people to divide tasks into small steps, looking for hazards at each point. This really helps them to understand where problems can arise.”

Preventative training is vital, but it can’t do it all. The workplace environment needs to be right too if skills andknowledge are to be transformed into real behavioural change. The organisation’s culture must enable, encourage and value the behaviours that the training aims to instil. That means empowering frontline staff. Rustam continues: “It’s important to give ownership to frontline staff – all workers, not simply supervisors. This is one of the key ways to improve the safety culture.”

Beyond empowerment, management’s commitment and willingness to engage with the staff on safety issues is also important. This can be as simple as a line manager showing an interest, asking questions about the training an employee has undertaken and checking that an employee is getting the relevant opportunities to use their new skills.

At another practical level, it might be ensuring that someone has the appropriate physical tools they need to do their job or demonstrating the value the company places on HSE training by incorporating it into an individual’s overall career development plan.

“Management recognition is important,” agrees Rustam. “Acknowledging frontline staff who are following a good health and safety approach, really encourages the right behaviours.”

He suggests that there is also merit in some form of reward or recognition scheme. “Rewarding and recognising when people follow good safety practice can be a big motivator to some of our staff. Public recognition works very well as it shows that the organisation prioritises and values health and safety, which is vital if the culture is to continue to evolve.”

A positive health and safety culture is prevention focused. It requires companies to have health and safety at the heart of their thinking – in the way things are done. It needs to be a key consideration when corporate decisions are made. When there are many competing commercial and cultural pressures to accommodate, the attention that health and safety requires can be put at risk. However, as Rustam is demonstrating, with the right focus on training, corporate culture plus a commitment to prevention, it is possible to develop an effective health and safety culture.

The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH) was formed in 1979 and is an independent examination board and awarding body with charitable status. NEBOSH offers a comprehensive range of globally-recognised, vocationally-related qualifications designed to meet the health, safety, environmental and risk management needs of all places of work in both the private and public sectors. Courses leading to NEBOSH qualifications attract around 50,000 candidates annually and are offered by over 600 course providers around the world. NEBOSH examinations have been taken in over 120 countries.

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