I am British. I have lived in the UK for the majority of my life. And, I have an accent which reflects my upbringing, But when I think of accents, it seems to me that most other people have them, but I am amazingly accent free. Along with the vast majority of the human race, I am deaf to my own accent. Interesting, but hardly harmful.

Also, I am aware of some of the more blatant aspects of British Culture - the Royal Family, Queuing, talking about the weather, wearing poppies in the run up to Armistice Day. However, many aspects of British Culture are so familiar to me that I have to work hard to notice them. In her book, ‘Watching the English’, Kate Fox describes bracing herself to deliberately bump into people in a busy London railway station to see how many of them would apologise to her. And most of them did. Even though she was to blame. Another observation she notes is that when British people feel slighted, they tend to complain to a third party rather than the person they feel to be responsible. It seems that, aside from the cruder cultural stereotypes referenced above, we are effectively blind to our own culture; to ‘the way we do things around here’.

I feel this is more problematic than accent deafness. If you are blind to the vagaries of your own culture, then how do you know what best behaviour is in any situation? In the field of Process Safety, this is a challenge for all operators, but particularly to those engaging in collaborations with others. Both parties will probably have been swimming in their own cultural fluid for so long that they have ceased to be aware of it. However, the composition of the respective fluids may be different, perhaps markedly so.

So, if you were an operator was a robust Process Safety pedigree, how could you best imbue its key tenets to a collaborator with a different heritage and attributes. Given that they are probably blind to any cultural weaknesses they may have and are likely to at best be baffled and at worst affronted by a direct approach. However, if a collaboration, based on your partner’s Process Safety grammar is established, the risk of incidents shoots up. And if the worst happens, no-one will remember the name of your partner. Think Union Carbide’s collaboration with a local shareholder at Bhopal. Think Total and its JV partner at Buncefield.

If you’ve decided to go down this path, there are a number of measures you can put in place to ease the necessary Process Safety cultural shift. Firstly, you can undertake a PS Audit based on established metrics (OSHA, CCPS or EI frameworks), to identify gaps. You can then suggest a customised PS communication approach which is ‘as easy as PIE’.

  • Pointed - for top management, generating a succinct and powerful argument for PS to be an equal partner for investment decisions as financials, logistics and contracts
  • Informative - for front line superintendents, to equip them with a PS sensibility. Perhaps best achieved by F2F training.
  • Energising - making PS engaging and enjoyable for operators and technicians. CBT might work well here.

And if they balk at your initiative, they might not be the right partner for you. It’s a big world - there’ll be other opportunities.

goldfish bowl