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Creating safety cultures


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Creating safety cultures

  1. 1. Creating Safety Cultures In Offshore Operations 13th International Symposium on Loss Prevention Philip La Duke 15569 Cleveland Avenue, Allen Park, MI 48101 USA 1. Introduction Fostering a safety culture is a daunting task, but this onus can be even greater when one tries to enhance the safety culture of an offshore operation. Offshore locations often differ distinctly from the parent organization and therefore those tasked with exporting a safety culture to a remote location are likely to face challenges that can greatly impede progress toward a universal safety culture. 2. Culture, Safety, and the Human Brain The human central nervous system is designed to identify threats to our well-being and trigger physiological reactions to danger faster than would otherwise be possible if cognitive thought and conscious decision-making were necessary. Sensory organs gather millions and millions of bits of information of which our subconscious mind must instantaneously assess the risk of harmful outcomes to our bodies. The brain is able to assess theses risks only because it has had previous experience with these stimuli. Because the subconscious mind relies on past experience to predict whether or not a stimulus is harmful, any time an individual acts unsafely without suffering a negative consequence the individual erroneously registers that act as safe despite having put him/herself at significant risk of injury. This predictive behaviour is mimicked by cultures, the role of a culture is to keep populations safe by keeping behaviours and reactions predictable and manageable. To truly understand how cultures work, it is useful to review how the central nervous system works. 2.1 The Need To Be Safe Abraham Maslow postulated in his Hierarchy of Needs that as one need is met new and more advanced needs emerge. According to Maslow, physical and emotional safety is a basic human need but once these needs are met they cease to motivate an individual. This cessation of the need to feel safe greatly impedes one’s ability to improve the safety culture of an offshore location. The worker’s need to feel safe is quickly met as the worker gains experience in the workplace and completes tasks without injury. This cessation of need is a primary reason for an environment where seasoned workers are more frequently injured than new hires. Additionally, while a newly hired worker’s need for safety can only be met by following safety procedures to the letter, eventually work experience will lessen these needs while social needs, i.e. the need to be seen as tough or seasoned, may outweigh the worker’s need for physical safety. 2.2 Establishing Order and Conflict Resolution Maintaining an orderly workplace is essential to the success of any organization, and ensuring that the organization effectively resolves conflicts is a key role of the corporate culture. Conflict resolution is typically informal and is largely shaped by peer groups. The offshore subculture tends to value its own informal rules and superstitions over the official procedures dictated by the corporate outsiders. The distrust of outsiders greatly impedes the maturation of the offshore safety culture.
  2. 2. 3. Steps For Cultivating a Strong Safety Culture in Offshore Operations The challenges associated with strengthening an organization’s safety culture are amplified as one moves farther from the core organization. Nowhere is this more obvious than when one attempts to strengthen the safety culture of remote or offshore operations. Offshore operations, branch offices, and similar remote locations lack the constant reinforcement of behaviours (both positive and negative) that are more prevalent in populations that are concentrated in a central location. Because norms and values are not continually reinforced, subcultures develop. To strengthen the safety culture of an offshore operation, organizations must: 3.1 Concentrate on Culture Change, not Climate Change. There is much confusion among safety professionals between the terms “culture” and “climate” and many efforts to change the culture instead change the climate. A culture is the codified body of ethical and moral values that govern an organization. Where climate is the organizational environment of a workplace. The short-term effects of a climate change are virtually indistinguishable from a culture change, but a climate change is typically short lived and unsustainable. Every element of culture has a corresponding element in climate: 3.1.1 Rules (written and informal.) Ostensibly the rules that govern worker safety are universal across an organization and are identified in employee policy manuals. Unfortunately, many of the rules that actually govern an organization are informal—for example, whether or not it is acceptable to report unsafe behaviours of another worker. These informal rules are typically deeply ingrained and are seldom articulated. Newly hired workers are taught the formal set of rules in a training or orientation but learn informal rules from other workers. Informal rules are even more deeply entrenched in offshore operations because they tend to grow out of exceptions necessary to address ad hoc circumstances or conditions that the parent organization failed to foresee and address. Rules are typically ingrained in the culture, but climate changes (falling behind in production, for example) can profoundly change enforcement of the rules. If one focuses on discipline or behaviour modification, one is making climate changes not culture changes. 3.1.2 Norms. While safety rules remain static, norms, (i.e. the regularity with which the rules are followed) are often fluid. Logically, the formal rule of any company will require a worker to follow the safety rules without exception, but informally, workers may be discouraged from reporting injuries, following safety protocols, or observing regulations because peers or even supervisors ridicule them as overly cautious. While rules are the behaviors to which an organization aspires, norms are the behaviours that the organization tolerates as acceptable—irrespective of whether or not the behaviour is against the rules. Norms differ from rules in that norms result from the daily reinforcement of behaviours where as rules tend to be developed by a small coterie of individuals that may be geographically and organizationally distant from the offshore operation. Here again, focusing on changing the norm through strict enforcement of the rules will only effect a climate change, not a culture change. 3.1.3 Shared Values. Organizations with a strong safety culture tend to share seven values that distinguish their organizations from those with weaker safety cultures: • All injuries are preventable • Compliance is not enough • Prevention is more effective than correction
  3. 3. • Safety is everyone’s job • Safety is owned by operations • Safety is a strategic business element • The absence of injuries does not denote the presence of safety Shared values are the truest measure of whether or not a culture change has occurred, and that the results will be sustainable. But merely putting these values on posters and hanging them on the wall is a climate change, not a culture change. 3.2 Expect and identify cultural differences. Cultural differences go far deeper than language and sometimes these differences are necessary to adequately protect workers from dangers that were unanticipated when the home office created the formal policies. In fact, sometimes the offshore location will have a better perspective and often, the offshore culture may have made process innovations that can be implemented by other locations. Because the offshore subculture values predictable behaviors, local and informal rules, and its local values over those of the parent corporation, trying to change this culture will be immensely difficult. Instead of trying to change the offshore culture, one should identify the best practices of the offshore location and build a foundation on these positive characteristics. 3.3 Be flexible Corporate managers often design safety procedures such that they are applicable to the widest possible population or that address the broadest spectrum of situations that require a safety policy. It is often easy for the corporate safety manager to dismiss the offshore location as having little to offer the parent organization. In other cases corporate safety managers may tend to overemphasize the need for a standard approach to safety across all locations. Instead, the corporate safety manager should create flexible templates that meet the corporate safety and legal department’s requirements for safety policy and allow the locations to create local versions of these safety measurements. 3.4 Build on the positive elements characteristic to the offshore location The distance from an organization’s headquarters to the offshore location can create subtle differences between the cultural characteristics of the headquarters and the satellite operations. The greater the distance between locations, the greater the differences between the two cultures; and it is easy for one to view the variation between the headquarters and the satellite as intrinsically undesirable, but that need not be the case. Instead of trying to force a culture change on the satellite location, one should seek to validate the local customs and incorporate them as best practices, where appropriate, into other areas of the organization. Because the remote locations are isolated, the local norms and shared values are likely to be deeply entrenched and fiercely defended. While many corporate safety managers view this dynamic as dangerous and undesirable, these managers miss an important opportunity to capitalize on and promote best practices and safety innovations. 3.5 Foster Ownership of Safety by the Offshore Location Leadership Offshore locations quickly develop their own subcultures that minister to the unique needs to establish predictable patterns in the local climate. Often the rules, norms and shared values that govern the organization’s headquarters are inadequate for governing the environment of the local culture. Forced to choose between a culture that does not adequately protect them and creating a new culture, a population nearly always adapts and creates a subculture that
  4. 4. meets its needs. The creation of a subculture can pose a significant threat to worker safety, however, as the tendency to ignore safety rules and procedures is far easier once other mores have been violated. Instead of fighting this dynamic, safety professionals should actively foster it because this dynamic is the heart of ownership of safety by local leadership. In determining its own approach to worker safety, local leadership will fiercely defend and truly own its safety. But this situation, while highly desirable, must be carefully managed and guided by the corporate safety professional to ensure that the workers truly are protected and that the local safety culture espouses the values of an organization with a strong safety culture. 3.6 Avoid Creating Culture Shock. As much as one may encourage the development of a strong safety culture that is led by the location, some change will likely be necessary. Introducing change too quickly or too dramatically will frequently result in a backlash of resistance to change. The change is too sweeping for the organization to absorb and the population will resist the change vigorously. Instead, safety advocates should make every effort to introduce gradual and incremental change. 3.7 Recognize that exporting a culture results in a hybrid. Change agents don’t always understand that when they attempt to export a culture, the final product is a hybrid of the two cultures involved rather than a clean replacement of the offshore culture. It is far easier to build a culture that capitalizes on diversity and differences than on homogeny, and organizations that seek to incorporate the best elements of all locations into the central culture are far better served than organizations that attempt to extend a central culture to all locations.. 4.0 Closing Remarks Many safety advocates make the mistake of assuming that the culture of the offshore operation must change, when in fact the offshore culture may have adapted and evolved to a state of heightened vigilance that is far greater than that of the parent culture. In those cases where cultural incongruence truly do present a problem that must be remedied, it is important that one respect the origins of the taboos and norms that have evolved in the subculture and preserve, as a foundation, those elements that are true best practices. 5.0 References Axtell, Roger E. Do's and Taboos Around The World John Wiley & Sons Barker, Joel Arthur. Paradigms: The Business of Discovering the Future Harper Business, 1993 Berne, Eric. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships 1963 Maslow, Abraham. Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Viking Press 1971 Missildine, W Hugh M.D. Your Inner Child of the Past, New York: Pocket 1963 Missildine, W Hugh and Galton, Lawrence Your Inner Conflicts and How to Solve Them. New York: Simon and Schuster 1974 Morris, Desmond. The Naked Ape London: Cape 1967 Morris, Desmond. Manwatching, a Field-Guide to Human Behaviour London: Cape 1977