The Impacts of National Culture on Safety Culture in the Global Oil and Gas Industry
- Steve Merritt (Chevron Global Upstream & Gas)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- International Conference on Health, Safety and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, 11-13 September, Perth, Australia
- Publication Date
- Document Type
- Conference Paper
- 2012. SPE/APPEA International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production
- 6.6.1 Integrating HSSE into the Business, 6.3 Safety, 6.1.5 Human Resources, Competence and Training, 4.3.4 Scale, 6.1.2 HSSE Reporting, 4.1.5 Processing Equipment, 6.2.8 Ergonomics, 4.1.2 Separation and Treating
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Safety culture is one of the most-studied subjects in the safety literature today, although no agreement exists on exactly what it means. Most safety culture research has been conducted in high-hazard industries such as nuclear power, aviation, and offshore oil and gas production. Only limited research has investigated links between safety culture and the prevailing national culture. This paper proposes that efforts to build safety culture and improve safety performance in the oil and gas industry will be enhanced if the prevailing national culture is assessed and a location-specific plan is developed.
Within Chevron, current safety culture initiatives include defining and advocating for "Operational Discipline?? and focusing on "Behaviors to Support Managing Safe Work?? in the upstream sector. Both of these approaches have distinctly North American cultural underpinnings. The HSE opportunity this paper addresses is building a strong safety culture across the many varied national cultures where Chevron operates. This paper reviews the key attributes by which national cultures are characterized with a particular emphasis on the areas most applicable to safety culture in oil and gas settings. For example, in a national culture characterized by high power distance and predominantly masculine traits such as those found in Latin America or the Middle East, techniques that work well in North America or Europe will likely not be as effective. It will argue that fit-for-purpose safety culture maturation plans are needed for each location.
The paper should be of particular interest to leaders who are working in business units outside of their home country. Hopefully they will learn something that will help them to better understand key aspects of national cultures and allow them to customize and accelerate their safety culture development efforts back on the job.
The term "safety culture?? first emerged in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986. International investigators determined after the event that serious deficiencies in the management of the nuclear power facility lead to an environment where operational decisions were routinely made without sufficient regard for safety. The results were nothing short of catastrophic.
The idea of creating the right culture as an enabler for improving the safety performance of an organization quickly spread beyond nuclear power to other high-hazard industries, such as aviation, chemical processing and offshore oil and gas production. But while the term is now used routinely by safety professionals across many industries, consensus has not yet been reached on what makes up the safety culture of an organization. Perhaps more importantly, only limited research has been done to demonstrate the links between improved safety culture and improved safety outcomes, or how an organization can go about building a positive safety culture (Cox and Flin 1998; Guldenmund 2000; Neal, Griffin and Hart 2000).
An area of particular interest to multinational companies with global operations in a high-hazard industry is can a corporate-driven safety culture be replicated across several countries? More precisely, will a common approach to improving safety culture and performance yield positive results in every country? Will management techniques and practices that are effective for say an oil platform in the United Kingdom also work in Thailand? How can key characteristics of the broader national culture best be taken into account when attempting to improve the safety culture for an operation in a given country? These questions form the basis for this paper.
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