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Training - Legislation and cultural expectations for a safe workforce

Published: 01st Feb 2010

Maintaining high standards in health and safety training has never been more important. The annual worldwide work-related death toll is a staggering 2.2 million people, according to a report prepared by the United Nations’ International Labour Office. The injury/illness figure - more than 450 million worldwide, or about 1 in 8 of the working population - just doesn’t bear thinking about.

As systems become more complex and work more challenging, the risks become greater and the importance of safe working practices increases proportionally. The growth and globalisation of the economy means that the same high standard of training, monitoring and supervision of health and safety is needed everywhere. In China, for example, the death toll in 2008 was 10.2% lower than the previous year, with 11.4 workers per 100,000 dying - in the US the figure is just 3.7; the European rate is 3.2 and the UK an enviable 0.7 per 100,000 workers.

Health & safety training

Professional training in health and safety for all levels of staff is highly effective in reducing accidents and incidents in the workplace. When delivering training in the Middle East, there are a number of specific challenges, including cultural and language issues, that can impact on the ability of people to learn and understand. With more than 40 languages, or variants of languages, routinely spoken in the region, getting the right message across by using the right words sometimes isn’t as easy as it might appear, as sometimes the same words mean different things in different cultures.

To help overcome the issues around safety in the Middle East, region-wide action has been taken by governments to encourage director-level responsibility for safety management. They have also applied indirect pressure, tightening existing laws by creating ‘corporate killing’ or ‘corporate manslaughter’ offences, and addressing the concept of the ‘controlling mind’ within the health and safety ethos of a company.

The need for senior executive to become actively involved in safety programmes has been underlined by recent, worrying research: Safety specialists in the UK found that the majority of serious safety failures in the Middle East are caused by management failure. The European Union says that the current 6,000 deaths in the region each year from work-related accidents are not only the result of carelessness, poor training and negligence but also ‘bad management and incompetence’.

Increasingly companies are ‘biting the bullet’ and sending senior staff on high level training courses. Recently more than 50 directors and managers from Al Futtaim Carillion - a regional leader in design, construction, facilities management and maintenance services through joint ventures in Dubai, Oman and Abu Dhabi - undertook the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, the NEBOSH National General Certificate - an extremely rigorous health and safety training course, with more than 80% of attendees achieving a credit or a distinction.

More safety management needed

Not everyone thinks so progressively. A worker was killed recently at a refinery in Baghdad and the investigation concluded that while companies in the region usually buy the right equipment, the workers tend not to get the training to go with it. The cost of this failure is high in both personal and financial terms - in 2001 the monetary value of the 5,300 work-related deaths in the US was around US $132 billion. Even companies with safety management and training protocols in place had to ask uncomfortable questions about the soundness, or otherwise, of their programmes.

The Middle East has become one of the most multicultural areas on the planet as the rapid expansion of both the population and industry has created an influx of workers from outside the region. So any training course has to deal with groups of people who may have no fluent common language, and possibly no common language at all, and very little shared culture. It would be simplistic to assume that anyone can train people in safety management as long as they speak the language, or have someone who can speak it for them.

A core issue is social and cultural assumptions being made by the trainers. Poorly trained or inexperienced tutors, especially from Europe and America, can sometimes have tacit expectation that certain levels of, for example, equipment and tools will be routinely available. They believe that the management style will be the same as at home. They don’t realise that people may not understand the context of illustrative or explanatory anecdotes. If they are teaching in their own language they sometimes fail to check which kind of English their students understand - US or UK. After all, a torch in the UK is a portable light that runs on batteries; in the US it’s a piece of wood with fire at one end.

“a worker was killed recently at a refinery in Baghdad and the investigation concluded that while companies in the region usually buy the right equipment, the workers tend not to get the training to go with it”

It is easy to make lazy assumptions about students understanding what they are being taught and not checking that they have fully grasped the subject. ‘Nod and smile’ has become the stereotypical response for people who don’t want to admit that they haven’t grasped what they are being told. Fear of looking foolish or receiving a poor mark will often prevent people from speaking up.

Misunderstandings are the basis of much comedy, but in safety training they can have very serious consequences. Properly developed training courses must be constructed with that in mind, and delivered in a sympathetic and professional manner.

Flexibility is one of the most important attributes of a good trainer, the awareness that doing something differently - as long as it is safe - is acceptable. Until recently, for example, most scaffolding in China was made from bamboo. This was rather alarming to western eyes but was actually perfectly safe, even though it tended to rock alarmingly in a high wind. That said, welders have been known to use a cardboard face shield and a pair of sun glasses instead of a welding mask, so there have been cases where different is also unsafe. In recent years, however, the situation in China has improved dramatically, and such ad hoc arrangements are rapidly becoming a thing of the past.

Important factors for training

So if you are looking at training your workforce, what are the most important factors to look for in a training organisation?

• Experience

• Knowledge

• Trainers with recognised qualifications

• Accredited training courses

• Regional understanding

Experience is no use without knowledge - training may be flawlessly delivered but it’s no use if it’s ten years out of date. Knowledge without experience is equally bad - understanding how knowledge is applied in practical situations is almost as important as the knowledge itself.

Local best practise

Trainers have to be properly qualified both in the subject, and as a trainer, by an internationally recognised organisation, otherwise employers may not be fully confident that the training has been properly delivered. Local best practice (and sometimes legislation) may require formal certification, and an unaccredited trainer simply cannot supply that. BSS are approved by NEBOSH, CIEH, IOSH, CITB, ECITB and others to provide - and examine - training courses all over the world.

Understanding the specific requirements of a particular region is the bedrock upon which all training must be built. Teaching someone in Bahrain in the same way you teach someone in Birmingham is a recipe for disaster. The training provider must understand the cultural and linguistic realities of the area they are working in, and the local practicalities of the industry.

“local best practice may require formal certification, an unaccredited trainer cannot supply that”

“the training provider must understand the cultural and linguistic realities of the area and the local practicalities of the industry”

Independent examining board

As a safety organisation NEBOSH (The National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health) is beyond reproach. Formed in 1979 as an independent examining board and awarding body, their qualifications are recognised globally and are designed to meet health, safety, environmental and risk management training requirements for both the private and public sectors. Management need to be able to demonstrate that their worker’s training is credible, realistic and applicable to the real world. A piece of paper from the University of Never-Heard-Of-It will do them no good at all when they are facing a corporate manslaughter charge.

The Middle East is what is described as a ‘relationship driven culture’, a place where personal relationships form the basis of most social and business interaction. Relationship driven cultures are usually collectivist in nature, where the interests, opinions and decisions of the group carry more weight than those of the individual. Cultures of this kind often have highly developed hierarchical structures that trainers have to be able to work within to achieve the desired outcome, and this can act as a major stimulus in improving working practices.

In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for example, the legislation on health and safety has recently been revised so it no longer has the ‘grey areas’ that afflict the laws of other parts of the region. Dubai currently has around 8,000 construction sites and more than 80,000 workers, most of them from outside the country. During 2008 local inspectors made nearly 30,000 site inspections and found a compliance rate in excess of 75%. This is a good example of the proper application of legislation, training and cultural expectations to make the workforce safer.

Author

Pat McLoughlin, British Safety Service

BSS specialises in training in the Middle East, with offices in Qatar, Dubai and Yemen. Experience and knowledge of local practices allows them to meet all the mandatory standards for the specific industries and local legislative structures. It is because of this proven expertise that they have been selected by NEBOSH to be one of the centres for two new courses - the NEBOSH award in Workplace Health and Safety (Pilot) and the NEBOSH International Certificate in Construction Health and Safety (Pilot). The latter qualification is aimed at supervisors and managers, and enables them to discharge their health and safety responsibilities more effectively as well as satisfying the legal requirements of the International Labour Organisation Standards.

The courses are delivered by BSS’ knowledgeable trainers, all of whom have at least 15 years experience as practicing safety professionals. “We are delighted to have been selected to deliver these new courses as part of the NEBOSH pilot programme,” said Pat McLoughlin, Managing Director of BSS. “We have been successfully delivering NEBOSH courses in the UK and internationally for a number of years and this allows us to expand what we can offer to both new and existing clients.”

More than 30,000 candidates attend NEBOSH qualification courses annually, and they are offered by over 400 course providers in more than 80 countries. Their qualifications are recognised by all the relevant international professional membership bodies including the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM) and the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA).

“We are proud - with some justification - of our achievements in safety training. We delivered more than 50 NEBOSH certified courses every year, and delegates have achieved an average pass rate in excess of 95%,” added Pat McLoughlin. “Our clients are happy with the standards we set and tell us that our trainers are amongst the most highly regarded in the region. We are happy to be able to support them as they work toward safer working practices.”

Published: 01st Feb 2010 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Pat McLoughlin has more than 27 years experience in health and safety, developed after a practical grounding of 10 years in Engineering at Land Rover. He was with ROSPA for six years before forming British Safety Services in the Sultanate of Oman, with his business partner Steve Burke. Today, Pat is involved in providing H&S training and consultancy, from medium sized businesses through to multi national corporations. Pat has advised boards of Directors in the strategic direction of their health and safety policies and procedures.