By Dr Paul Johnston. Lead Consultant and Facilitator
Leadership Dimensions sister company Safety Dimensions recently had an opportunity to expand our relationship with Ducab [the Dubai Cable Company, a leading manufacturer of cabling], assisting them in enhancing their HSE culture via a Behavioural Based Safety [BBS] program. Already OHSAS18001 certified, Ducab’s intention is to exceed mere compliance with the required standards, and to achieve international “best practice”. Safety Dimensions is excited to be working with them on their health and safety journey.
The challenges faced by Ducab are both physical and cultural in nature. Physically, the average temperature in summer of 40°C+, is compounded not only by levels of humidity in excess of 60%, but also by the presence of aluminium and copper furnaces on site. Culturally, the workforce is as diverse as the wider Dubai population, with most originating from highly hierarchical societies that are characterised by a significant “power distance” in relationships.
Power distance is a term that describes how people belonging to a specific cultural group view power relationships between people, including the degree to which people not in “power positions” perceive and/or accept that power is spread unequally.
Although the cultural backgrounds of Ducab’s workforce do indeed constitute a challenge in establishing, implementing and maintaining an effective BBS program, the same also provide a solid foundation on which to build. Whilst this may seem somewhat paradoxical, although the sense of power distance in significant, so is the importance of “team” and “community” to the workforce – this is the strength that has already contributed to Ducab’s success, and this is the strength on which the roll-out of the BBS program is being based. Indeed the Australian mindset of “looking after your mates” is a reasonable comparison. The main difference, however, is the perceptions associated with hierarchical relationships, and the manner of communication that is associated with it.
The Way forward
In moving forward with Ducab, the intention is to build on their success and cultural strengths, extending their sense of “team” to create a greater sense of “permission” to have safety conversations with others, regardless of rank and title.
Will this be easy?….No.
Is it achievable?….Yes.
One of the key reasons for these answers is what we saw during our 3 weeks with Ducab. During this time, site visits and interviews were conducted, and 3 two day Safety Leadership workshops were facilitated, as was a one day Executive Masterclass. Throughout these activities, two themes remained constant – the intent to work diligently for the good of the company, and the willingness to have open discussions in what were considered to be appropriate settings. The goal is to extend this so that all of Ducab is seen as an appropriate setting for such interaction. This goal, although challenging, is one that I believe Ducab can achieve – with this being based on the level of commitment and willingness to learn that was witnessed of both management and front-line operators alike during our time there.
Indeed, the current pace of development in Dubai, both in terms of commercial operations and infrastructure development, is remarkable – with this being reflected in the collective willingness to establish long term partnerships and to strive for international best practice.
With this in mind, we are looking forward to our next trip to Dubai, scheduled for early next year, and to see what the future in the region brings.
What Did We Learn ?
From our initial site visits, interviews, the subsequent Masterclass, through collaboration we all learned more about Ducab, the challenges they face and how to move Safety forward in a tangible way. The experience can best be summarised in the statement “Limitations are what we put in the way, not what are actually there”. Ducab’s willingness to understand, challenge themselves and to apply a different approach to safety was quite evident, and it something that companies both internationally and locally could learn a lot from.