The value of good cultural fit in tailoring safety messages for migrant workers
Tuesday 25th October 2016
From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
Levels of awareness and competence can create significant communication challenges in some jurisdictions. On some projects in the Middle East, migrant workers may never have seen the tools they are to use and may not comprehend the risks. In such situations, induction and on-the-job training need a highly-practical focus, clearly showing unsafe practices versus safe ones. Non-verbal communication, supported by videos and images, and innovative techniques, such as industrial theatre, can convey safety and health messages.
It's important to provide adequate time for workers to absorb the necessary information. Interpreters can encourage them to express views in their preferred language. If the size of the workforce or lack of resources make this impractical, perhaps colleagues can be trained to interpret for each other. Translating instructions can help to ensure that safety and health requirements are understood, provided the translation is thoroughly checked.
Awareness of different cultures and religions helps gain a better understanding of workers' individual concerns. You don't need to become an expert in the various cultures and countries, but exploring what others think and do will help you to reflect on your own assumptions. This is necessary to develop a level of empathy with the workforce and to appreciate that other cultures may deal with safety and health matters in different ways. Learning about other people's cultures helps identify where OSH improvements can be made. The key is to have an open mind and relish the experience of learning about others.
The key is to have an open mind and relish the experience of learning about others
It's easy to assume that migrant workers understand common English terminology, particularly if some have a relatively good command of the language. In an example of teaching fire safety to a group of migrant workers, it was assumed that delegates understood the word "arson". Subsequently it became apparent that several did not understand the term. No one had mentioned anything during the training, illustrating a tendency in some cultures to avoid raising questions, to save face in front of peers.
Try to minimise the use of idioms and colloquialisms. In another session, the trainer referred to management sitting in "ivory towers". Afterwards, a puzzled trainee asked where these towers were located. This is a common pitfall, as it is natural to default to regularly-used phrases.
Migrant workers, like other employees, take their ideas, assumptions and experiences with them to the workplace. Safety and health practitioners need to embrace these differences to ensure that multicultural diversity has a positive effect on safety and health outcomes in the workplace.
The careful design and delivery of training, and especially the use of innovative approaches, can help all workers to develop understanding and ownership of safety and health issues and foster a positive organisational culture.
One of the major lessons that should have been absorbed from the Aberfan disaster 50 years ago (see p 17) had to be restated forcefully in Lord Cullen’s report on the Piper Alpha drilling rig explosion and fire which took 167 lives. That lesson was that when a regulator gets too close to the industry it polices there is a high risk that its regulation becomes slack.
Negative headlines, fines, problems and inspections all focus on what is wrong or what people can’t do. These begin to follow us around like a negatively-charged dark cloud. Perhaps we should reflect on our own behaviour because our words and actions can have a profound effect.Positivity is infectious; it’s motivating, engaging and it makes people feel better about themselves. Negativity makes people switch off and turn away. Let’s encourage what people can do rather than say what they can’t.
They revealed there was no decline in domestic spending in the British economy after the vote to leave the European Union in June. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has now rowed back slightly on its pessimism about the initial impact of the Brexit decision, upgrading its UK growth forecast to 1.8% for 2016. Share prices are buoyant and the pound’s post-referendum slide against the dollar has stopped. So far, so good; those who predicted an immediate economic tumble after the referendum have been wrongfooted.
Many of the drivers and some of the teams are lobbying for a new device developed by Mercedes, named the “halo”, to be fitted over the front of car cockpits. The halo is designed to shield drivers from pieces of flying debris, but opinions are divided; Hamilton was quoted as saying it should be optional and that he prefers to take the risk.There is a contrast between apparent personal freedoms being curtailed “because of health and safety” and a society in which people generally feel so safe that they take it for granted and want redress when harm arises.
Teams of researchers set about trying to lift the lid on a world of work which you, as a reader of this publication, are very much a part of.The book provides a fresh and current perspective on OSH, recognising it has a rich and colourful history that has increasingly been shaped by public perception. For me, the research enabled us to explore how the OSH professional can confidently respond to these changing needs to shape the future. Adaptability, it seems, is key.
It’s certainly not because it is a rarefied classification. There was a time when profession was reserved for more obviously learned occupations such as teaching and law. But in the past 50 years it has been extended to encompass those in business support functions including human resources and information technology, whose roles are certainly no more significant than those controlling occupational risk.