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Safety culture needs native culture considerations

No Safety Culture can be established without supporting the native culture in the country or area concerned.

Could an optimal corporate safety culture applied across cultures? I believe it to be possible, but not without challenges. Implementing or changing corporate culture is not easy at all. Indeed it is extremely difficult.

Regretfully, many safety professionals do not take this into enough consideration. I make this comment on the basis of many emails and conversations in the last few years.

Safety culture is not ‘off the shelf’

In particular some South African mining companies often imported safety practices from other parts of the world, with scant regard for the real world application of those practices in a South African context.
We have often seen the same situation with tools and techniques from well known global safety programmes. It is key to understand multi-layered relationships in South African mining operations.

For decades we have been hearing about unacceptable numbers of fatalities in Chinese mining. Many reasons contribute to those horrific outcomes. We are also seeing a continued rush by American and Australian governments, among others, to export safety systems and technologies to China.
Should we be doing that? Absolutely! Anything we can do to try and reduce the loss of one husband, father, brother, is worth the investment. But could a safety strategy designed to operate at a behavioural level in an American or Australian mine, work in Chinese operations? Highly unlikely.

South African compliance and a culture of corruption 

I am often told that if you are pulled over by a South African traffic law enforcement, the phrase to remember is ‘can we talk about this?’ This is a key phrase for exploring the possibility and amount of a bribe. As for most recently, even the Minister of Transport warned that no more cold drinks will be available.

Cultural factors in safety interventions

We have to consider cultural factors when designing safety interventions.The well-known Abraham Maslow gave psychologists and mangers the most powerful concept to appreciate human motivation which he called the hierarchy of needs.

Maslow suggested that our motivations for the whole range of behaviour are in a triangular vertical model. People need to satisfy these factors from the bottom up. Personal safety is generally not perceived to be one of our basic or immediate needs but more of a value system; a choice.

Risk perception and risk appetite dictate local behaviour.

In Asia and many other parts, entire families are transported on two wheeled motor cycles, as their immediate needs dictate. In Johannesburg, South Africa, your chances of getting stabbed in a taxi is far better than getting injured at work.

There is little point in trying to elevate the importance of personal and corporate safety among people who are unable to feed themselves.
When looking for the most appropriate behavioural reinforcers, we must consider where the person ‘is’ in terms of common human priorities, to which Maslow gave us a rough guide.

Behavoural safety v cultural factors

We have to consider application of the principles of behavioural safety in different cultural frameworks, even on one site, especially in economically diverse countries like South Africa and sites where multiple languages are spoken.
Some particular employee behaviours are heavily grounded in cultural influences. Ignoring these would be at the peril of your health and safety culture.

Diane Swarts
Diane is a SHEQ Practitioner with 10 years experience as a Safety Officer with working knowledge of ISO 18001, 9001, 14001 management systems as well as the OHSACT 85 of 1993, Construction Regulations 2014, MHSA No 29 0f 1996, and Regulations.